The Death Penalty Blog : Displaying 284-303 of 345

DPF is twittering!

Posted by Stefanie on January 9th, 2009

Now you can get updates from DPF on Twitter:

We will probably only use Twitter for urgent actions and announcements, but we will see how it goes. 

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These Times Ahead: Now Is The Time To Show Your Support!

Posted by Rebecca Rose McLaughlin on January 5th, 2009

As you may know, the non-profit/charity world was hit hard by the recent scandal involving Bernard Madoff and his alleged "Ponzi" scheme. Close to $73 million of various foundation money was invested with Madoff in 2007 alone. That means that tens of millions of dollars that was earmarked for numerous vital causes, including criminal justice reform, has literally been wiped from existence. This, in combination with the mounting economic crisis in our country, has had a devastating impact to the non-profit sector, and more importantly, to the countless people it helps each day.

While this scandal has not specifically impacted us here at Death Penalty Focus, we certainly have begun to feel the tremors of this financial quake, as major foundations drastically cut or eliminate their grant funding altogether. Like virtually all non-profit organizations, we will feel this impact in the months, and possible years, to come. But we also feel the strength and support of our members every day and realize that no matter what happens, this movement can survive anything. It is your commitment to our work that has made it grow so strong for these many years. We must continue to stay focused on our goal of eliminating the death penalty. Nothing has changed for us here at DPF! We are still fighting and working hard every day for cause. And you must continue to fight alongside us!

I realize that the economy has made everyone take a "financial step backward", so to speak. But if you step too far back now, we may face worse times than we ever could have expected. It is now up to you, the loyal abolitionist who has been with us from the beginning, to help get us through these times. Consider a monthly donation (less than the cost of a daily cup of coffee!) or perhaps a one-time gift, to fund our many new and exciting programs slated for 2009. Also, don't forget to watch out for our Action Alerts, that highlight the specific ways you can act to immediately make a difference in the fight to end the death penalty.

Remember, as you watch the news and follow the details of this slowly unfolding drama, there is a good chance that it does affect the work that you have so tirelessly supported for all these years.

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What Would Be the “Appropriate” Punishment?

Posted by Yoko on December 19th, 2008

I recently read the book “The Electric Chair” by Lama Milkweed Augustine Ph.D. Dr. Augustine writes the story in first-person about witnessing her uncle’s electrocution when she was young, although she keeps the reader guessing as to whether the experience is fact or fiction (you will have to find out for yourself!).  The story dramatizes the horrifying course of events.  The execution becomes engraved in her mind and she has to live with this dreadful memory for the rest of her life. 
Executions are often thought to provide some sort of closure or finality, but in reality the victims’ families and also families of the executed, like Dr. Augustine’s character, keep struggling with the issue long after the event.
We often hear about the anguish of murder victims’ families (some who support the death penalty and others who oppose it), but Dr. Augustine’s book reminds us that the families of the condemned, who are often ignored, also suffer tremendously as their lives are also disrupted and torn apart by the crime. 
We have no right to diminish any person’s life whether they are victims or not.  And prisoners who have been convicted of heinous crimes should be confined in prison and reflect on what they have done to another human being for the rest of their life.  That’s what I think would be the appropriate punishment.  I don’t believe state sanctioned killing is an appropriate punishment in any case.
Dr. Augustine has devoted her life to giving a voice to the condemned and their families, and is fighting against leukemia today.

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Berkeley City Council Passes Resolution to
End Death Sentences in Alameda County

Posted by Stefanie on December 17th, 2008

Great news from Alameda County!

The Berkeley City Council adopted a resolution last week (December 8, 2008) that calls on the District Attorney of Alameda County to stop pursuing the death penalty and to focus instead on investing public resources in solving homicides, preventing violence, and expanding public safety programs.

Alameda County has historically been one of the most aggressive death sentencing counties in California, sending more people to death row than any Bay Area county, even after adjusting for murder rates and population size.

"Sentencing people to execution costs far more than condemning them to permanent imprisonment," said Delane Sims, who works as an outreach coordinator for the Alameda County Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (ACCADP). "Relying on the death penalty strains our county's resources and compromises our ability to pursue effective public safety programs - which is especially important in Alameda County."

A trial seeking execution in California costs at least $1.1. million more than a trial seeking permanent imprisonment, called "life without parole."

The resolution was brought by the Alameda County Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, a coalition of Northern California human rights organizations whose members include Death Penalty Focus, Amnesty International, the Bay Association of the United Church of Christ, Progressive Jewish Alliance, eight local chapters of the League of Women Voters, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, Kehilla Community Synagogue and the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club.

In 2006, two out of three murders in Alameda County went unsolved.

"As residents of Alameda County, we all know that we desperately need more resources for more effective violence prevention and intervention," added Sims. Like Sims, a number of activists involved with ACCADP have lost a loved one to murder, and oppose the death penalty on both moral and practical grounds.

The Alameda County Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (ACCADP) comprises a broad spectrum of community leaders and organizations working together to increase public safety by promoting effective alternatives to the death penalty.

To find out more about the campaign, visit or

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Two Anniversaries and a New Development in Maryland

Posted by Margo Schulter on December 17th, 2008

This week marks the first anniversary of two critical steps on the road to global abolition of the death penalty. On December 17, 2007, the state of New Jersey enacted a law abolishing capital punishment for all offenses. The following day, December 18, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.  

The drumbeat of progress now continues with the release on December 12 of the final report of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment. This report calls for total abolition, drawing on the recent experience of New Jersey as well as a thorough and enlightening analysis of the racial and geographic disparities in the Maryland death penalty system.

Chaired by Benjamin R. Civiletti, who served as Attorney General of the United States under President Carter, the Maryland Commission places emphasis on the need to improve services for families of murder victims and to redirect society's resources to measures which can prevent homicides. A successful program by the Baltimore police department to reduce the number of murders is cited as an example of how public funds can and should be spent effectively. In contrast, the Commission confirms the conclusion of many studies that the death penalty is no more a deterrent than permanent imprisonment.

In California, the same basic considerations apply, but with yet more fiscal urgency. In its report of this June 30, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice estimated that our state could save at least $125 million annually by abolishing the death penalty and making permanent imprisonment the uniform penalty for all capital crimes.

Better services for crime victims and their families, smarter prevention efforts like those of the Baltimore police, and new initiatives to raise clearance rates for homicide and reopen "cold cases" seem wiser priorities than spending more years and dollars in an effort to kill people who spend the rest of their natural lives in prison.

Here in California, as in New Jersey and Maryland and around the world, the drumbeat of progress and the voice of common sense point in the same direction: abolition.

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Serving as Attorney General: Eric Holder and William Bradford

Posted by Margo Schulter on December 12th, 2008

Eric Holder, Barack Obama's nominee for Attorney General of the United States and a personal opponent of the death penalty, might draw inspiration from a worthy historical mentor and predecessor in this high office: William Bradford (1755-1795).

Bradford, a premier law enforcement official and jurist during the Revolutionary and early federal eras, served as Attorney General of Pennsylvania and then as a Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. These were exciting and often tumultuous years when Pennsylvania moved to enact a more humane scheme of criminal justice and build a modern prison system.  In 1794, he was appointed U. S. Attorney General under President George Washington, serving until his death the following year.

Bradford deserves special credit for two legal innovations presented in a report to the Governor of Pennsylvania in 1793. The first was an argument that the death penalty may well in fact be "unnecessary," and thus unconstitutionally "cruel," for any crime including even deliberate murder.

Holding that the main purposes of punishment are "to prevent the offender from repeating the crime, and to deter others from its commission," Bradford concludes that imprisonment can meet both of these purposes. "If, therefore, these two objects can be obtained by any penalty short of death, to take away life, in such case, seems to
be an unauthorized act of power." Further, Bradford emphasizes that imprisonment leaves room for the "reformation" of the offender -- a vital goal more recently known as "rehabilitation."

Bradford's second and better-known innovation was his proposal for dividing the  crime of murder into degrees, quickly adopted by the Pennsylvania legislature in 1794 and since then by the vast majority of the States. Murder in the first degree as he originally defined it would be confined to acts of "deliberate assassination." His legislative program was aimed at abolishing capital punishment for all crimes other than first degree murder (and possibly high treason) as a first step towards total abolition.

As U.S. Attorney General under President Obama, Eric Holder may have the precious opportunity, as well as daunting task, of helping to complete his predecessor William Bradford's labor of reform by nudging the United States in the direction of the growing majority of world nations which have moved beyond executions to more enlightened means of law enforcement.
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A New Season

Posted by Mike Farrell on December 8th, 2008

Dear Friends,

There is a new season upon us; call it what you will, there is change afoot in the world. Whether you supported him or not, the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States augurs a new vision for our country, a new thinking about our place on the globe.

According to the New York Times the recent election unleashed "a flood of hope" in the world community. With that flood, I trust, will come the opportunity not only for new thinking about America's place in the world, but also about the people's place in America.

An America that lives in hope, with a healthy excitement about promise and opportunity, is a nation that allows us to step away from the grip of fear that has lain over us like a shroud for too many years. It is a nation that looks upward, once again embracing the idea of community, daring to stand on principle, willing to find a better way.

At Death Penalty Focus, we believe this new era offers the opportunity to re-examine a system that incarcerates more of its citizens than any country on earth, a system whose costs rival what we spend on educating our children, and ask ourselves where this is leading. Instead of continuing this mad rush toward moral and economic bankruptcy, we believe it is time to turn away from retribution, to cast aside tired posturing about being "tough on crime" and begin being "smart on crime." And a way to mark this beginning, a way to demonstrate to our children that fear and hatred and a bloodlust for revenge serve no human purpose, is put an end to the execrable practice of state killing - the extermination of caged, helpless human beings - and replace it with a sentence of permanent imprisonment for those who might be a continued threat to public safety.

It is long past time for us to join the world's developed nations, all of whom have done away with capital punishment. This new and hopeful season provides the opportunity. We at Death Penalty Focus will do our part. With your help, we will succeed.

Please consider making a donation today. We need your help more than ever.


Mike Farrell

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Don’t forget to come out to our DPF Fundraisers!

Posted by Rebecca Rose McLaughlin on December 2nd, 2008

DPF has so many great events throughout the year, not only is it a chance to meet the staff and hear firsthand about the exciting progress we've made, it's also an opportunity for you to meet others in our movement! It's networking that creates strong communities of abolitionists, communities of mobilized, educated activists and advocates, ready to fight back and speak out in the fight to end the death penalty. We will need to rely on these communities for the long fight we have ahead. Don't miss your chance to meet others who share your passion and beliefs!

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Still Working, Still Waiting

Posted by Judy Kerr on November 20th, 2008
Bob Kerr, Abby, and Judy Kerr
Bob Kerr, Abby, and Judy Kerr

It has been just over one year since I became the Spokesperson and Outreach Coordinator for California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.  My brother Bob was murdered in 2003 and, while I still wait for someone to be charged in my brother's murder, my opposition to the death penalty grows stronger with everything I have learned in the past twelve months. 

As the Spokesperson for CCV, I have had the privilege to meet many murder victim family members whose reasons for opposing the death penalty vary, but whose convictions against capital punishment are consistent and absolute.  They are an inspiration to me.

In January, February, and March of this year, CCV had a crucial presence during the public hearings of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice on the death penalty.  I listened to the stories of many victims’ family members who had not spoken publicly before.  The stories I heard are as moving as they are inspirational. 

At the Annual Victims’ March during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week in Sacramento I was struck by the sheer numbers of victims’ family members who stopped at the CCV table to sign their names to the growing list of family members and survivors who stand against the death penalty.  It became clear to me on that bright April day on the Capitol steps that when murder victim family members are presented with facts and honest appraisals of what the death penalty means to them and to society as a whole, they unite in opposition to capital punishment.

Last month, CCV completed a speaking engagement tour of Los Angeles and San Diego counties.  Once again we were met with victims who, without hesitation, conveyed their opposition to capital punishment.  There is no clearer voice of reason in this debate than the voice of the victims’ families proclaiming with clarity and resolve that the death penalty does not serve them, that the death penalty causes them more pain, and that the cost of the death penalty in every county in California is a cost that detracts from other vital services that can keep us safe and prevent further crimes.

Our efforts will continue to strengthen and grow.  Our strategy going forward is clear.  We recognize that the road ahead is long but never so long as the night when we lost our family members to violence.  Your support and dedication are part of the reason we continue to speak of our terrible tragedies and part of the reason we can raise our voices together against the death penalty.

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A life for a life?

Posted by Sheila Michell on November 20th, 2008

When one reads, as I did a few days ago, about a terrible crime: in this case, the unprovoked murder of a young girl, which took place twenty seven years ago [see article], one's initial instinctive response is quite likely to be "that man deserves to die".

And yet when one reflects further on the issue, what would the death of the murderer achieve? Some would argue that the victim's family would see justice done. But what sort of justice would that be? Many victims of crime have realized that a life for a life is no way to ease their pain. The life of their loved one will never be restored. Some of those who have lost people to violence are outspoken against the death penalty.

And then I read further into the article I discovered that the person who committed the crime had already been recognized as a sociopath and had served time in a mental facility. Why had he ever been let out? Perhaps society had failed him and itself with an inadequate mental health care system.

So what should society do in such a situation? In my opinion, a society who calculatedly murders anyone, let alone someone who is severely mentally ill, is only perpetuating the violence they seek to punish.

Let us also reflect on the practical implications of a death penalty in California today. This case has lingered on for twenty seven years with no resolution, which has cost the state millions of dollars, and forced the victims' family to keep waiting for an execution that may never happen. If there were no death penalty, the situation would have been resolved years ago with a sentence of life without parole. The murderer would die in prison without all the added cost of death penalty appeals and all of the media attention.

As it is now, he is more likely to die in prison than by execution. This less violent solution would free up resources to be spent on improved mental health care services or to support of victims of violent crime. 

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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.

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Mike Farrell talking with GRITtv

Posted by Stefanie on November 18th, 2008
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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. 

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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.

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Dreaming of Change

Posted by Alejandro Villaseñor on November 10th, 2008
Alejandro Villaseñor

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.

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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! 


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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.

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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."

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Families of Murder Victims Call for End of Death Penalty

Posted by Stefanie on October 10th, 2008

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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.

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