Read the fine print
Posted by Margo Schulter on November 19th, 2008
Let's hope that elected officials and others involved in shaping public policy -- which means all of us -- bother to "read the fine
print" in the results of a new Gallup poll
released November 17.
In brief, as emphasized by the headline "Americans Hold Firm to
Support for Death Penalty," 64% of those surveyed favored "the death
penalty for someone convicted of murder," with 30% opposed.
However, in paragraph 7 we learn that in the last Gallup survey
offering a choice between the death penalty and life imprisonment
without possibility of parole (LWOP), the split was in fact 47%-48% in
favor of permanent imprisonment.
Curiously, this 47-48 split is reported from a poll in May 2006, the
one in which Gallup says it "most recently" offered a "death vs. LWOP"
choice. As I asked the Gallup organization in a comment left on their
site, shouldn't this choice be included in every survey addressing
the death penalty?
In fact, the dramatic decrease in support for the death penalty when
LWOP is offered as an alternative is a long-established pattern, but
one we need to drive home to policymakers. In the real world, death or
LWOP is indeed the relevant choice: in California, mandatory LWOP has
been in place since 1977 for all offenses subject to a possible death
In such a climate of public opinion, rightly understood, the "middle
of the road" option for a public official such as President-Elect
Obama or California Governor Schwarzenegger is in fact a moratorium on
With death and LWOP so finely balanced in public opinion, getting out
this very fact is one vital step to a moratorium and eventual
abolition of the death penalty.
Mike Farrell talking with GRITtv
Posted by Stefanie on November 18th, 2008
A bit of good news
Posted by Sheila Michell on November 13th, 2008
The best bit of news I have read this week is that a county in Ohio is finding it difficult to gather a jury for a death penalty case. People, apparently, do not feel happy about taking responsibility for whether another human being lives or dies. To me, this is pleasing. Personally I do not think anyone should be given this responsibility; not jurors, judges, governors or the prison staff we ask to carry out the executions. As fellow human beings, none of us should have to carry this burden.
Each of us has been given life. If we suffer the misfortune of losing it due to the violence of another human being, nothing can restore it to us. The loss of our life would be the responsibility of the person who took it. This is a responsibility he/she should bear for the rest of his/her natural life. Even if the murderer were to ask for the death penalty, no one should have to accept the responsibility of fulfilling his request--killing another human being.
How many people who support the death penalty in theory would be prepared to carry out the act of carefully planned murder? Yes, I have met some who say they would gladly kill a person convicted of heinous crimes, but how would they do this in practice? Where does it put them in relation to the murderer?
In my opinion, if the world is to become a better place, the governments of the world should take the moral high ground by treating criminals with justice, not with violence comparable to the crime that was committed. Those who take the life of a human being and spoil the lives of other human beings should be incarcerated - and for the most heinous crimes this should be indefinitely - in prison with no possibility of parole. This way, the criminal can live to take responsibility for his/her action and work if they wish toward some sort of redemption before their natural death.
Sheila Michell is a volunteer with Death Penalty Focus.
We seek justice, not vengeance.
Posted by Lance Lindsey on November 12th, 2008
A statement given in opposition to California Proposition 6, also known as the Safe Neighborhoods Act, by Catholic leaders is also a powerful and eloquent expression of the principals and values that underlie our work in advocating for alternatives to the death penalty, especially within a religious context.
The following statement of the Catholic Bishops of California in opposition of Proposition 6 (the "Safe Neighborhoods" Initiative) was issued September 17.
In their November 15, 2000 document, "Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice," the U.S. bishops write:
"A Catholic approach begins with the recognition that the dignity of the human person applies to both victim and offender… As bishops, we believe that the current trend of more prisons and more executions, with too little education and drug treatment, does not truly reflect Christian values and will not really leave our communities safer. We are convinced that our tradition and our faith offer better alternatives that can hold offenders accountable and challenge them to change their lives; reach out to victims and reject vengeance; restore a sense of community and resist the violence that has engulfed so much of our culture."
As bishops, we seek justice, not vengeance. We seek a type of justice which addresses crime in terms of harm done to victims and communities, not simply as a violation of law. We seek a type of justice which holds people who commit crimes accountable, but encourages victims to forgive, so that there can be healing. The type of justice we seek is "restorative justice."
Communities do have a right to establish and enforce laws to protect people and to advance the common good. At the same time, our Church teaches us to not give up on those who violate these laws. Despite their very different claims on society, the lives and dignity of both victims and perpetrators should be protected and respected.
As bishops, we oppose Proposition 6 because it advances a retributive rather than a restorative justice model for dealing with crime. Proposition 6 would create multiple new crimes and additional penalties, some with potential for new life sentences. Proposition 6 could also curtail the participation of nonprofit organizations in community councils that determine county-level policy for juvenile justice.
Although Proposition 6 was introduced in good faith by those with legitimate concerns about "safe neighborhoods," it offers more of the same criminal justice policies which have failed in the past - and it will cost Californians billions of dollars without increasing public safety.
We encourage those who deal with criminal justice issues in California to join with each other to craft a wise, humane and effective policy for dealing with crime in our state. We as Bishops in the state of California will continue to work toward a true spirit of restorative justice, believing that only by addressing the issue from the perspective of "restoration" can our neighborhoods truly be safe.
Dreaming of Change
Posted by Alejandro Villaseñor on November 10th, 2008
This weekend I spent time in Los Angeles with my sister. On Sunday morning we sat down and watched a political talk show; Obama's acceptance speech came on. My sister asked if I could believe it. I couldn't believe it, still can't. I didn't cheer Tuesday night. I didn't smile, laugh, or even cry. I was in shock. My sister pointed to her wall, where she has a replica of Norman Rockwell's The Problem we all Live with, which depicts a young black girl being escorted to school by several US Marshalls. My sister asked "A black president in country that only recently dealt with that, really?" We both looked at each other and simply smiled.
She then asked me, "Do you think we can get rid of the death penalty?" My first thought was to say, No way! We have a long way to go but I stopped myself. I looked at her TV and Obama was still on. I looked at my sister and said, "Sure, why not? If we all work together we can get rid of this horrible death sentence. I mean we just elected a black man president." I then let myself dream of change.
Imagine the change in our criminal justice system. Imagine a criminal justice system without the death penalty, without an archaic, racist, and costly death penalty. Imagine a prosecutor not being allowed to manipulate the system deciding who gets to face the death penalty and who gets life without parole. Imagine a criminal justice system without the death penalty.
Four years ago, if you would have told me that in the next election we would elect a black man as president of the US I would have looked at you and said something like: Get out of here, you're crazy. Well here we are.
So now I say to you, if we work together we can live in a society that no longer has a criminal justice system which throws away money and people by sentencing them to death. WAIT! Before you tell me to get out of here and tell me that I am crazy. We just elected a black man president of the US. Imagine a criminal justice system without the death penalty. Clearly anything is possible if we work together. So lets work on this and eliminate the death penalty.
Posted by Rebecca Rose McLaughlin on November 4th, 2008
Just a reminder, when going to the voting booth on election day, make sure you are informed of the candidates stance on the death penalty, not just for our local/state elections, but nationally as well. Our battle is really gaining momentum and it is imperative that we have as many politicians in office who are on our side!
AND DON'T FORGET TO VOTE!!!
No Exceptions, No Excuses
Posted by Yoko on October 22nd, 2008
"Look at you! You are just like us!" was one of the many cogent quotes from the movie "Death Sentence" that I recently watched on television.
The film depicted the tragic murder of a young man from a wealthy, happy family who was killed at gunpoint by a gang member right front of his father. It was a gang initiation killing. The boy was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This boy's father was informed by a lawyer before the preliminary hearing that the perpetrator would probably be sentenced to about 3 years or so regardless of this brutal slaying (which would rarely, if ever, happen in real life). The character is shocked and decides to kill his son's murderer himself. He testifies in court that he was unable to clearly see the suspect's face so that the case will be dismissed and perpetrator will be freed.
He executes his son's murderer but in return the perpetrator's brother who is also a gang member tries to exact revenge upon him. In the end, after a bloody battle between these two men, the gang member, left to die in a pool of blood, says "Look at you! You are just like us!"
After watching this film, I couldn't help but notice the similarities between this type of vigilante revenge killing and state sanctioned killing, both of which are done in the name of justice. However, justice should not be mistaken for revenge. Revenge killing will never be a solution. State sanctioned killing lowers us to the level of the condemned prisoner, despite the fact that it is done legally. This type of killing will never bring peace of mind to anyone. I believe this kind of barbarism should not be allowed.
The naked simple fact...
Posted by Lance Lindsey on October 17th, 2008
It is useful to remind ourselves, as well as those who believe that killing prisoners represents a legitimate form of justice, that in fact the death penalty is a very rare and marginal criminal justice practice not only in the US but also globally. 90% of all executions in America take place in only handful of Southern states and, according to Amnesty International, nearly 90% of known executions throughout the world are carried out in just five countries (China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the USA).
The vast majority of US states and nations do not execute their prisoners. All Western democracies, except the US, have abolished the death penalty a long time ago.
Our opponents often like to paint the abolitionist community as marginal and out of touch with the mainstream. In fact, support for the death penalty both here and abroad is dramatically diminishing, and advocacy for alternatives like permanent imprisonment is becoming the preferred sentence over death, according to a recent poll in California, and thus the genuinely mainstream position.
As former California Governor Pat Brown expressed it: "The naked simple fact is that the death penalty has been a gross failure. Beyond its horror and incivility, it has neither protected the innocent nor deterred the wicked."
Families of Murder Victims Call for End of Death Penalty
Posted by Stefanie on October 10th, 2008
To mark World Day Against the Death Penalty (October 10th) and Mental Illness Awareness Week, I would like to share a short video featuring Nick and Amanda Wilcox, Kim Crespi, and Bill Babbitt. They were filmed at last weeks launch of a joint project between Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights
(MVFHR) and National Alliance on Mental Illness
to end the execution of prisoners with a mental illness. The launch of the project took place in San Antonio, Texas and brought together families of murder victims with families of mentally ill individuals who have been executed for violent crimes. Together, they offered their testimonies and launched a new initiative calling for a ban on the death penalty for people with mental illnesses.
To get involvedcontact MVFHR, and join the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.
Rev. Carroll Pickett: The evolution of a death penalty opponent
Posted by Stefanie on October 1st, 2008
An interesting interview from the Dallas Morning News:
For 15 years, the Rev. Carroll Pickett was a witness to state-sanctioned
death. As a prison chaplain in Hunstville, he presided over 95 executions. After
each one, Mr. Pickett recorded his thoughts on tape. The documentary At the
Death House Door chronicles his anguish as he eventually concludes that some
of the men he led to death were innocent.
Dallas Morning News editorial writer Colleen McCain Nelson interviewed
Mr. Pickett via e-mail this week. Read the interview.
Troy Davis execution is stayed until Monday, September 29th
Posted by Stefanie on September 23rd, 2008
Less than 2 hours before his scheduled execution, death row prisoner Troy Davis received word today that the U.S. Supreme Court had stayed his execution until Monday, September 29th.
Davis, who is on death row in Georgia, has always maintained his innocence. 7 of the 9 witnesses who testified against him at his trial have recanted their testimony.
Critical Decision in Citizens’ Hands in Japan
Posted by Yoko on September 16th, 2008
I’d like to talk about the Japanese judicial system again.
In Japan, all the criminal and civil cases are tried only by lawyers and judges. Even though the public can witness the trials, a jury system made up of members of the public has never been used.
However, a new citizen judge system will start next year. This means, unlike the U.S jury system, six citizens who are randomly elected, will share their opinions and decisions with three judges, not only in the verdict phase, but also the sentencing phase. More importantly, this system applies to ONLY SERIOUS CRIMINAL CASES that are mainly comprised of murder (including death penalty cases), manslaughter, arson, kidnapping and child negligence cases.
The theory behind this citizen judge system is that public opinions should be heard and reflected in court decisions so that trials will (ideally) be even more just and fair. As I mentioned before, however, over 90 % of Japanese people support the death penalty. This new public interaction with the legal system may provide Japanese people with a unique opportunity to become aware of the serious issues surrounding the death penalty. On the other hand, this new system will allow the public to decide who should live or die, and could prove to be an outlet for the public’s outrage towards the perpetrators of heinous crimes. I don't know which direction this process will take whether it will make the system more fair or less. Even though it’s very controversial, I hope this new legal process will at least stimulate more lively and informed discussions in the future.
Unfortunately, since my last blog entry, another 3 death row inmates were executed in Japan last week. Lately, executions have been occurring about every two months. Compared with the last 10 years, the number of the death verdicts handed down has been rapidly increasing, as is the pace of the executions. These new developments, sadly, go against the worldwide trend to reduce and eliminate the use of the death penalty.
A previous Japanese minister of justice said, “Once a death sentence is finalized, execution should be carried out promptly.” This really horrified me.
Fact: 35 executions last 10 years (9 executions were carried out in 2007)
13 executions in 2008 only
"Justice was served...."
Posted by Lance Lindsey on September 10th, 2008
It is often assumed by some that the only response by murder victims' family members is to demand the death penalty for the perpetrator. However, increasingly the alternative sentence of life without parole is being sought by prosecutors and families who have lost loved ones to murder because it provides a less prolonged, traumatizing legal process in reaching finality and justice. In fact, in a recent poll, the majority of Californians prefer the much less costly sentence of life without parole over death as the ultimate sanction. And of course throughout the world, the majority of nations have long ago stopped executing their prisoners in favor of alternative punishments that are not only more humane, but also more fair and just.
To learn more about this growing move away from demands for the death penalty by district attorneys and the victim rights community, I encourage our readers to check out California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, or Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, which are advocacy organizations made up solely of individuals who have lost loved ones to murder and who advocate for alternatives to the death penalty.
Here is an excerpt from a recent SF Chronicle article about one of several cases in the Bay Area that illustrates alternative responses by murder victims' family members and the trend away from the use of judicial homicide as part of the state's pursuit of justice:
Life sentence in Oakland slaying of professor
Henry K. Lee, SF Chronicle, September 6, 2008
Troy Tyrone Thomas III was convicted in July of murdering John Alfred Dennis Jr., 59, a teacher at St. Mary's College in Moraga and City College of San Francisco. Prosecutors say Thomas killed Dennis with the intention of assuming his identity.
Thomas entered guilty pleas to all the charges against him, including murder with the special circumstances of burglary and financial gain, said Deputy District Attorney Mark Jackson. Prosecutors opted not to seek the death penalty…..
The sentencing came after the victim's nephew, Josh Dennis, began weeping while addressing the court.
"In some weird, twisted way," Dennis said, pausing to control his emotion, "in some way I forgive you for what you've done." He said that's what his uncle would have wanted.
"I'm not God, because what he can do is forgive and forget," Dennis said. "I can't forget."
The Rev. Jay Matthews of St. Benedict's Catholic Church in Oakland told the judge, "John was a wonderful, bright light and a wonderful mentor to so many people in this community. John's demise will leave a great void in our community."
Matthews told Thomas, "We forgive you as well."
In an interview, Jackson said, "Justice was served, and Mr. Thomas will spend the rest of his life in prison, where he cannot harm anyone else."
Thomas' attorney, Assistant Public Defender Richard Foxall, said the guilty plea and sentence was "the right resolution."
For the complete story click HERE.
Please take a moment to read this!
Posted by Rebecca Rose McLaughlin on September 2nd, 2008
I wanted to make sure all of our supporters, and especially our potential supporters, had a chance to read this stirring op-ed written by Ronald Carlson.
(I would have posted just the link to this article, but it looks like his op-ed is no longer available online at http://www.star-telegram.com)From the Star-Telegram, Sunday, August 3, 2008
Time to end the death penalty's cycle of violence by Ronald Carlson
June 13, 1983, and Feb. 3, 1998, are two days that will forever be etched in my memory.
On that fateful day in June, I lost my dear sister, Deborah Thornton, senselessly murdered along with her friend Jerry Lynn Dean.
Fifteen years later, I witnessed another senseless act of violence: the execution of Karla Faye Tucker, the woman condemned for the crime.
Before I lost my sister, I had no opinion on the death penalty. But Deborah's tragic death made the question of capital punishment a painfully personal one. When I learned of the murder of my only sibling, who had helped raise me after our mother died, I was filled with hatred. I would have killed those responsible with my own hands if given the opportunity.
But when I learned that those responsible - Karla Faye and her friend Daniel Garrett - were in fact facing death sentences, I was uncertain that justice was being served.
I've since had 25 years - almost half my life - to examine the subject, and the conclusion I've come to is a clear one: We as a society should not be involved in the practice of killing people.
Wanting to see those who killed your loved ones suffer the same fate is understandable - no one can sit in judgment of those who have faced such loss - but our justice system should not be dictated by vengeance. As a society, shouldn't we be more civilized than the murderers we condemn?
Finding faith is what led me to this conviction and helped me confront my pain and anger.
Turning to God enabled me to realize that, while lashing out might satisfy our instinctual desire for revenge, we as a society must strive not to indulge those desires. Jesus preached the need to love one another and the sanctity of life - all life, no exceptions, no asterisks to the rule.
What could be a more egregious violation of his teachings than the state executing its own citizens in retribution?
The death penalty does nothing more than continue the cycle of violence that is corroding our society.
I have stood more than one time with Death Row families as they prepared to watch their loved ones head to the execution chamber. The pain that they feel is no different from the pain that I felt for my sister. When we engage in the practice of capital punishment, we force more people to suffer through the tragic loss I had to endure. We simply create more victims - victims of the very criminal justice system meant to protect us.
The broken nature of this system makes the practice of capital punishment all the more unconscionable. From inadequate counsel to the staggering number of wrongful convictions, it is morally deplorable to continue with the death penalty while these problems persist. Daniel died in prison before his execution could be carried out, but I was present at the execution of Karla Faye as a witness on her behalf. It was one of the most highly publicized executions in Texas history.
Karla Faye's religious conversion while on Death Row had led many, including Pope John Paul II, to express support for clemency, but it was to no avail. Watching the execution left me with horror and emptiness, confirming what I had already come to realize: Capital punishment only continues the violence that has a powerful, corrosive effect on society.
While many advocated sparing Karla Faye's life because of her redemption story, I consider myself an advocate for all life - and an opponent of all killing, whether it be the murder of innocent victims or the execution of the condemned.
As I watched Karla Faye die, all I could think was this: I can't see Jesus pulling the switch.
Ronald Carlson lives in Houston and is an advocate against the death penalty.
My Mission at DPF
Posted by Yoko on August 20th, 2008
As a Japanese national, I have a unique perspective on the death penalty.
Many people are surprised to learn that Japan, like the United States, has a death penalty. What surprises people most is that Japan still uses hanging as its method of execution and that hangings are carried out in secret. The condemned prisoner, their lawyers, and the family of the condemned do not know when the execution is scheduled to occur. They are usually notified the morning of the execution and this information is made public the following day. (It used to be completely hidden from all parties until the policy was changed in December 2007.) According to the recent public poll, over 90% of Japanese people support the death penalty.
When I lived in Japan, I didn't have an opportunity to discuss the death penalty or even think about it seriously. I simply accepted it as part of life in Japan. In fact, due to my political ignorance at the time, I used to support the death penalty.
But as you may have guessed, I now fall into the ten percent of Japanese people who oppose the death penalty.
Its the perception of many people that the condemned don't have the right to live because they are responsible for the taking the lives of innocent victims. Of course, I now strongly disagree with that thought construct and believe that every human being deserves to live.
Because of my own experience here in the bay area and the knowledge that I've acquired by attending school here, I am now committed to educating my friends regarding the issues surrounding the death penalty. This is one of the main components of my mission at DPF!
Pointless and Needless
Posted by Lance Lindsey on August 12th, 2008
Nat Hentoff's piece, "Sanitizing the Death Penalty," which was originally published on WorldNetDaily a few months ago, is certainly disturbing as he reflects on the US Supreme Court's recent decision in Baze v. Rees. The Court, in their merciless opinion, found that the process by which we methodically, ritualistically poison condemned prisoners to death (lethal injection) is not cruel and unusual punishment even if there is a risk of inflicting significant pain on the prisoner during the process.
However, even with such a heartless conclusion, where at least one standard of decency appears to be devolving instead of evolving, another powerful voice on behalf of civilization over barbarism, moral courage over "moral error," rose above the Scalian smoke and mirrors to speak clearly to what is in fact an intolerable conclusion: "...that the imposition of the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible or social public purpose." Justice Stevens can be forgiven his use of the word "marginal" because he now joins other illustrious jurists such as Marshall, Blackmun and Brennan, as well as others on the current court, who have "awakened" to the futility and cruelty of tinkering with the administration of torture and death in our criminal justice system and courageously speak out for abolition of the death penalty.
Mario Cuomo spoke eloquently on behalf of this growing chorus of human rights leaders when he said: "We should refuse to allow this time to be marked forever in the pages of our history as the time that we were driven back to one of the vestiges of our primitive condition, because we were not intelligent enough, because we were not civilized enough, to find a better answer to violence than violence."
We welcome Justice John Paul Stevens to our growing ranks.
Mike Farrell and Don McCartin in the Fresno Bee
Posted by Stefanie on August 6th, 2008
An excellent op-ed by DPF President Mike Farrell and former Judge Don McCartin appeared in the Fresno Bee today.
Don McCartin, was a judge with the Superior Court. He sentenced more men to death than any
other in his jurisdiction. He was known as "the hanging judge of Orange County."
Excerpted from the op-ed:
Don McCartin, having sentenced nine men to death and then watched as the system
examined, re-examined and finally overturned all of his convictions while
executing none of them, now believes the death penalty is a hideously expensive
fraud. It tortures the loved ones of murder victims by dragging them through the
years of complex appeals required by the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to
protect the innocent.
McCartin's experience with the death penalty system confirms the findings of the California Commisison on the Fair Administration of Justice which called California's death penalty "dysfunctional" and revealed the excesisves costs associated with this failing system.
"My First Month at Death Penalty Focus"
Posted by Rebecca Rose McLaughlin on August 4th, 2008
For those of you who are frequent visitors to our site, my name and face may be unfamiliar to you.That's because I am a new addition to the Death Penalty Focus team.My name is Rebecca Rose and I am the new Development Director here at DPF. I come to this organization with a deep conviction about this issue and a drive to do everything I can to help end the death penalty.
Even though I've been here only a few short weeks, the staff and Board have made me feel completely welcome, and energized me with their infectious enthusiasm. Their support has made the transition from my job and life in San Diego to San Francisco smoother than I could have imagined.
From the moment I set foot in this office, it has been very clear to me that everyone in this organization is truly passionate about the work they do. I have been so inspired by the programs here at DPF, and there are even bigger things on the horizon.I know that we have a long way to go in this movement, and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to work alongside such committed activists.
Most importantly, I know that it is our base of supporters that makes us strong. The first thing I realized is how strong our network of support really is, and how much momentum there is in our community to make changes in this system.
I look forward to learning more about this issue, and to getting to know more of our supporters, donors and activists.By working together, we can achieve our goal of replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole!
Great Video of Former Florida State Prison Warden Ron McAndrew
Posted by Stefanie on July 31st, 2008
This is a really compelling video of former warden, Ron McAndrew, talking about the executions he oversaw and the death penalty: http://www.palmbeachpost.com/search/content/local_news/slideshows/deathrow/wardenvideo.html
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