The Death Penalty Blog : Displaying 282-301 of 375

The Colosseo Shines for New Mexico

Posted by Elizabeth Zitrin, IOCP Coordinator on April 15th, 2009
Illuminated Colosseum in Rome
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.  

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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.

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A Month of Killing, More on the Way?

Posted by Norm Stamper on April 14th, 2009
Norm Stamper

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
with her."
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!

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'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.

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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.

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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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Montana Bill to abolish the death penalty

Posted by Pauline Rogan on March 26th, 2009

Earlier this month, the Montana Senate passed a bill to abolish the death penalty and this bill is currently waiting for action in the house of representatives.
Please show your support for this bill by voting in a poll on the Montana standard website. Scroll down and you'll see the poll on the bottom right hand side.
Thanks for your support and remember, every little bit helps!!!
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Abolish the Federal Death Penalty: Support S.650

Posted by Pauline Rogan on March 24th, 2009

U.S. Senator Russ Feingold introduced legislation on March 19th, 2009 to abolish the federal death penalty. This legislation would put an immediate halt to federal executions and forbid the use of the death penalty as a sentence for violations of federal law.

For furthur information and to support this bill please follow this link:

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Interview with Bill Richardson

Posted by Stefanie on March 24th, 2009

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow interviews Governor Bill Richardson about his decision to sign legislation that ended the death penalty in New Mexico.

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Death Penalty Does Not Deter Prison Killings

Posted by Stefanie on March 24th, 2009

I thought this op-ed was so insightful, I've decided to share it in its entirety.

Billings Gazette
March 22, 2009
Guest Opinion: Death penalty drains justice system resources

I served as chief special prosecutor for the state of Montana for 21
years. During that time I was involved with the prosecution of many
homicide cases, including five death penalty cases involving homicides
committed by prison inmates against other inmates. I also managed the
prosecution of 14 inmates for the 1991 prison riot homicides.

I believed at the time that the death penalty was needed to keep
correctional officers safe from inmates serving a sentence of life
without parole. Without the threat of execution, I thought, there
would be no deterrent to prevent such inmates from taking the life of
a correctional officer.

But my direct experience prosecuting prison homicides changed my mind.
I have come to believe that the death penalty is an incalculable drain
on our limited criminal justice resources. It makes bizarre
celebrities of the sentenced inmates while essentially ignoring the
suffering that victims' families must endure through decades of legal
scrutiny. And frankly, it lessens our own humanity. It is time for
Montana to repeal it.

I would never advocate for repealing the penalty if I thought it
placed our correctional personnel at risk. During the years I
prosecuted cases of violence in the prison, I learned to greatly
admire and respect the dedicated corrections professionals that care
for and manage the inmate population in all of our state and county
detention facilities. Theirs is a thankless, stressful responsibility
for which they are paid very little, especially given the demands of
their jobs. Nonetheless, they continue to labor in the most difficult
of environments for Montana's citizens.

But the best way to protect our correctional professionals is to
recognize the need for a well-trained staff, for the commitment of
adequate resources to operate the institutions safely, and for
innovative management incentives that serve to reduce the opportunity
for prison violence.

After the 1991 riots in the Montana State Prison's maximum-security
unit, prison officials examined their protocols and made many positive
changes to heighten security and ensure safety. As a result of those
changes, there have been no homicides in the maximum security unit
since the riot. The drop in homicides is not because of the death
penalty - which existed in Montana both before and after 1991 and did
nothing to deter the riots - nor because there are fewer dangerous
people in the prison now than there once were. The decrease in
homicides is a result of better procedures and other positive changes
to the management of the prison.

The truth is that inmates serving sentences of life without the
possibility of parole are not the primary threat to corrections
officers' safety. Studies have shown that inmates serving life
sentences are actually very manageable because they do not want to
jeopardize the limited privileges they can earn in the system. A well-
managed prison with proper classification and staffing can create
incentives for lifers to behave while segregating and punishing those
who are a threat before violence ever occurs. Our prison system
already knows how to do this.

The reality is that the death penalty is not, and never has been, a
deterrent. Prison safety depends on proper staffing, equipment,
resources and training. Certainly the money spent on trying to put
someone to death for over 20 years could find better use in addressing
those practical needs of our correctional system.

John Connor practices law in Helena, Montana.

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Governor Bill Richardson proved himself as a world-class statesperson

Posted by Margo Schulter on March 20th, 2009

When he signed New Mexico's newly passed House Bill 285
abolishing the death penalty, a measure introduced by
Representative Gail Chasey and adopted through her dedicated
efforts and those of many others, Governor Bill Richardson proved
himself as a world-class statesperson. While rightly focusing in
his statement on the needs and interests of New Mexicans seeking
a more effective and reliable criminal justice system, he also
touched on international human rights concerns voiced by a
noted public figure who urged him to support the bill: former
U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Former President Carter, renowned for his focus on human rights
both during his term and since in his career as a global
peacemaker and activist, spoke very much in character when he
wrote to Governor Richardson: "As you know, the United States is
one of the few countries, along with nations such as Saudi
Arabia, China, and Cuba, which still carry out the death penalty
despite the ongoing tragedy of wrongful conviction and gross
racial and class-based disparities that make impossible the fair
implementation of this ultimate punishment."

In his statement upon signing the bill, Governor Richardson
remarked, "From an international human rights perspective, there
is no reason the United States should be behind the rest of the
world on this issue. Many of the countries that continue to
support and use the death penalty are also the most repressive
nations in the world. That's not something to be proud of."

Both President Carter's letter in support of the bill and
Governor Richardson's courageous act of signing it reflect a
sober and realistic approach to peacekeeping, domestic or
international, fortified by much hard experience. Both have
weathered their share of crises, with Richardson distinguishing
himself as a diplomat and hostage negotiation in various parts of
the world. As U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, he found
himself in the unenviable position of having his own country
investigated by a U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and
arbitrary executions. The rest of the world, however, was amazed
that the United States could retain the death penalty while
seeking to exercise leadership in the human rights arena.

At a time of when we are part of a growing world community and when
stark fiscal choices have to be made, our higher moral aspirations
and the cost-effectiveness of crime control pull in the same
direction--the direction taken and illuminated for us all by
former President Carter and Governor Richardson.

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'A Forum on the death penalty'

Posted by Pauline Rogan on March 19th, 2009

Last night at Berkeley City College auditorium, the Alameda County Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty presented a panel of speakers who all had unique and interesting perspectives on the death penalty, which they shared by recounting their own personnel stories. On this panel was Aaron Owens, who was wrongfully convicted of murder in Alemeda County, Judy Kerr spokesperson for California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (CCV), Deldelp Medina, a member of CCV, and Darryl Stallworth, a former Alemeda County prosecutor.

Each story was insightful and thought provoking in its own way. Aaron Owens, an enlivening character who fought his wrongful conviction from within by doing research in the Prison Law Library, recounted his story with a humor and wisdom that was both entertaining and inspiring. Judy Kerr told the audience about the murder of her brother, Robert James Kerr, and urged them to question the current system and capital punishment.

Another sad and thought provoking tale was told by Deldelp Medina, whose story was unusual in the fact she was related to both the murder victim and the murderer. Her cousin, who suffers from schizophrenia, murdered her Aunt. Although he is now getting the help he needs in a mental institution, when the crime was first committed the prosecutors were intent on sending him to death row. Her story was interesting as it high lighted one of the many problems with the death penalty; it is estimated that on death row, 5-10% of the inmates suffer from mental illness.

As amazing as these stories all were, the one that intrigued me the most, was Darryl Stallworth's account. Daryll Stallworth was a former prosecutor, whose opinion on the death penalty changed through his career. He has gone from asking jurors to choose the death penalty to asking members of the public to oppose it. Darryl recounted how it was hard for him at first to speak openly about opposing the death penalty, as he would be opposing a system which he had essentially grown up in and was a part of. But he then came to believe that if he wished to bring about change, he would have to begin with himself.

The reason Daryll Stallworth's account interested me the most was because his opinions and views were not ones he had had his whole life, they had been changed, and it is this change that the death penalty as a movement is seeking. I believe Judy Kerr put it best last night when she said, that she didn't want to talk to people who opposed the death penalty, she wanted to speak to those who were for it or who had no opinion either way, as they were the minds that needed to be changed. And Daryll Stallworth is the proof that this is possible.

Hearing his account, merely an hour after New Mexico signed legislation to abolish the death penalty, filled me with renewed hope that the battle for abolition of capital punishment is one that we are winning. Now is the time for change. Now is the time to end the death penalty.

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Death penalty is not worth feeding our appetite for revenge

Posted by Byron Williams on March 19th, 2009

THE DEATH penalty remains one of those select issues in our public conversation, along with guns and abortion, driven as much, if not more, by emotion than actual data.

Despite being a policy fraught with error, wasteful spending and unreliable convictions that prompted former Illinois Gov. George Ryan to declare a moratorium, the death penalty continues to enjoy high public approval.

There have been a number of recent articles that examine the cost effectiveness of the death penalty. Tough economic times may be the only way to rid the culture of a policy that has America in lock-step with the famed "axis of evil."

Given the economics, with more states examining the viability of lifetime imprisonment in lieu of the death penalty, the Alameda County Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty hosted a forum in Berkeley this week on the death penalty, featuring three family members of murder victims, a former prosecutor and a person wrongfully convicted in Alameda County.

Alameda County is one of the most aggressive death-penalty counties in the state. Each death penalty trial costs county taxpayers more than $1.1 million more than a traditional murder trial - resources that could go to other county needs.

The participants, who come to this issue from very different perspectives agree on one thing - the death penalty does not work! Each panelist offered an insight on the flaws with the death penalty based on personal experiences.

It may feed the public's momentary thirst for revenge, but the death penalty is not a deterrent. It does not save lives and it adds unnecessary cost to state and local coffers.

Panelist Aaron Owens spent 10 years on death row wrongfully convicted of murder. Ironically, Owens was freed after the district attorney who prosecuted him finally concluded that he was innocent.

The Owens example makes the case against those arguments to do away with the death penalty appeal process as it currently stands. Proponents of capital punishment contend the process is too lengthy, cumbersome and expensive.

Recently, there have numerous columns and talk show topics focused on the appeal process for Richard Allen Davis, the convicted murderer of Polly Klaas, which finally began after he spent 13 years in prison.

While I understand the reaction to Davis, given the heinous nature of the crime, the death penalty is a policy implemented in the macro that justifies its existence in the micro. The emotion that is attached to Davis blinds us to the imperfection of the policy, as Owens bears witness.

The sluggish appeal process that many death penalty advocates abhor must be the price if California is to resist being totally consumed by publicly-funded barbarism. There can be no short cuts if the state wishes to continue to be in the revenge business.

But appeals are costly and every issue in these economic times must fall under the microscope of scrutiny for its cost effectiveness.

Invariably, whenever I write in opposition to the death penalty, I receive e-mails that chronicle isolated cases that individuals believe warrant capital punishment.

Again, the thirst for revenge blinds us to certain realities. Those who are poor, who cannot afford adequate legal representation, people of color as well as those who suffer from mental illness or mental retardation comprise the majority of those who receive the death penalty.

Those who advocate for the death penalty seldom argue for the massive increase in resources required for the death penalty being considered equitable. Why not life in prison without parole? It's cheaper and Davis would never be freed.

The event held in Berkeley put a face on the death penalty. Victims who did not receive closure once it was implemented, prosecutors through their experience informs them of the futility of the policy and a potential death penalty victim who without a long appeal process would not be alive to tell his story.

But I suspect as long as it remains politically advantageous for candidates seeking elected office to support the death penalty and as long as it is administered the "nobodies" of our society we can afford to waste a few dollars, even in a tough economic climate, to feed our appetite for revenge.

Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and columnist for Bay Area News Group-East Bay. E-mail him at or leave a message at 510-208-6417. To read more by Reverend Williams go to

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New Mexico Becomes the 15th State to Eliminate the Death Penalty; Other States Consider Taking Similar Action to Ease Budget Concerns

Posted by Stefanie on March 18th, 2009

On March 18, 2009, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson signed H.B. 285, which is a bi-partisan bill that replaces the death penalty with permanent imprisonment. New Mexico is the fifteenth state to abandon capital punishment and the second state to do so legislatively in the last two years. New Jersey's legislature passed a similar bill in December 2007. At least ten other states have considered similar measures this year citing the significant savings that could result from ending the death penalty: Montana, Nebraska, Maryland, Colorado, New Hampshire, and Kansas are among them. Earlier this year, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley called on his state's legislature to end the death penalty citing both financial and ethical concerns.

In June 2008, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice found that California annually spends approximately $137.7 million dollars on the death penalty. By replacing the death penalty with permanent imprisonment, the Commission noted that the state could save in excess of $125 million per year. Just last month, the California State Legislature also doled out an additional $136 million for a new death row housing facility--for which the total project budget is expected to reach $400 million.

Governor Bill Richardson's office reported that it has heard from thousands of New Mexicans on the bill to repeal the death penalty over the last three days. On Tuesday evening, they reported that they had received 9413 calls, emails and walk-ins visits on the issue. Of those, the vast majority, 7169, supported repeal of the death penalty and 2244 were opposed. Many murder victims' families also testified in favor of ending the death penalty. "

It is time for the voters of California to realize that death penalty is draining our state and counties resources while providing no benefit to our communities. We should be using our scarce public safety resources on getting killers off our streets, not on a symbolic punishment. We have more than 25,000 unsolved murders in our state-this is a real threat to public safety," said Stefanie Faucher, Program Director of Death Penalty Focus.

Lance Lindsey, Executive Director of Death Penalty Focus, added, "Governor Bill Richardson is a courageous and thoughtful leader who has recognized that the death penalty is an ineffective and costly response to violent crime. Permanent imprisonment is a severe and swift punishment that offers justice to victims' families and effectively protects society."

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Our Future is Dramatically Changing

Posted by Yoko on March 17th, 2009

Our new President, Barack Obama, has jumped head first into working on the myriad difficult issues we are now facing and he’s already signed several executive orders to rectify some of the problems. One of the orders he signed was to close the infamous Guantanamo Bay Detention Center within one year, which made me scream “Go, Obama!!”

I've read a few articles and listened to a number of conservative radio shows that suggest people are very concerned about the order because terrorists might be released and threaten our national security again.

However, what these individuals fail to understand is that while many of the detainees are dangerous, some of them are completely innocent. As a result of this order, of course some innocent detainees may be released, but others that still pose a danger to society will be transferred to the “appropriate” place where they will be tried and receive proper due process. The problem is that the detainees’ human rights have been completely ignored and the proper due process has not taken place.

I've encountered similar fears and misinformation when discussing the death penalty. By advocating for the end of the death penalty, we are not advocating for the release of dangerous criminals. We support sentencing the worst of the worst to permanent imprisonment.

According to the press release from the office of the district attorney county of San Diego, over 1,200 homicide cases go unsolved every year in California alone. In short, suspects who are responsible for these murders are still at large. They may be living right next to you.

Unfortunately, our legal system spends millions of dollars on killing the condemned who are already incarcerated despite the fact that we can save $117 million every year by just abandoning this dysfunctional death penalty system.

Don't you think spending money on solving these cold cases/law enforcement/victims families would be more valuable and effective?

Killing prisoners does not make our society safer!

Today many people are struggling with the horrible financial crisis and crimes including homicides that are committed due to this desperate situation. Isn't it time to reconsider how to spend this exorbitant amount of money to make our society safer and healthier?

I feel that we are getting closer to ridding the world of the death penalty every day. I'm hoping that the death penalty will soon become a thing of the past, just like human rights abuses at Guantanamo and slavery.


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Open Letter to Governor Richardson from Alejandro Villasenor

Posted by Alejandro Villasenor on March 14th, 2009

Alejandro Villasenor
PO Box 821
South San Francisco, CA 94083

Governor Richardson
Office of the Governor

490 Old Santa Fe Trail 
Room 400

Santa Fe, NM 87501

Open letter to Governor Richardson

Governor Richardson,

First and foremost I have to say that as Chicano, it makes me proud to see you, a fellow brown man, have achieved so much in your life. You are an amazing example for Raza all over the US. I had hoped that you would have been more successful in your presidential bid. A brown man in the white house would have been historic. Although you did not accomplish that you find yourself at a moment where you can do something historic: Abolishment of the death penalty.

Governor Richardson, before you is HB285; ready for your signature. Please sign it. For many years studies and reports have shown that the death penalty has been applied in a discriminatory fashion. In a 1990 report the General Accounting Office concluded that "in 82 percent of the studies [reviewed], race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e. those who murdered whites were more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks." So here you are, a man of color, with an opportunity to take a stand against a racist legal instrument. With your signature on this bill you will send a message that you and New Mexico will not stand for the use of a racist policy cloaked in the word Justice. True justice is not applied in a racist way. I know you understand this.

Not only is the death penalty a racist tool but also one that is heavily flawed and wasteful. The wrongful execution of an innocent person is an injustice that can never be rectified. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty, 129 men and women have been released from Death Row nationally. Moreover, it costs far more to execute a person than to keep him or her in prison for life. The US Supreme Court has recently discussed the evolving standards in this country. Those standards are evolving towards the end of the death penalty; look at Illinois, New York, and New Jersey not to mention the European Union and many Central and South American Countries all who do not have the Death Penalty.

Many people say “the pen is mightier then the sword” but often it is hard to point to one instance where this actually is true. If you use your pen to sign HB285 then your pen will be mightier then the sword, electric chair, gas chamber, hypodermic needle filled with poison and all other state approved execution methods.

Sign the bill Governor Richardson. Do not be mislead by those who say eliminating the death penalty would usher in more violence. Those people are nothing more then fear mongers. Under this bill the sentence one would face would be Life Without the Possibility of Parole. That means what is says, no parole for this person. They would never see freedom.

Governor Richardson, send a message to the world that New Mexico is aware that the death penalty is flawed. Send a message to the country that New Mexico and its citizens will not stand for a penalty that is racist, expensive, and flawed.

Please sign Bill HB 285.

Alejandro Villasenor

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