We are saddened to learn about the death of Delbert Tibbs, a death row exoneree who dedicated his life to ending the death penalty.
Delbert was convicted in 1974 of the murder of a 27-year-old man near Fort Myers, Florida, and spent three years in prison, two on death row, before the Florida Supreme Court reversed the case. The original prosecutor, James S. Long, declared that the case had been “tainted from the beginning and the
investigators knew it.”
Delbert later moved to Chicago where he wrote poetry and continued his advocacy against the death penalty as the Assistant Director of Membership and Training for Witness to Innocence.
Delbert Tibbs inspired people wherever he went, and will continue doing so even after his passing.Thank you for sharing your story with the world.
Over the years, DPF has worked to build a broad coalition of people from diverse backgrounds to join the fight against the death penalty. This coalition includes law enforcement officials, exonerees, murder victims’ family members, and people of faith. Learn more about our programs, and watch the video below!
Reggie Griffin discusses his experience being sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit.
On October 25, Reginald Griffin became the 143rd person to be exonerated from death row since 1973.
Griffin was sentenced to death for the murder of a fellow inmate in 1983. His conviction rested on testimony from two jailhouse informants, who received benefits for their testimony. Prosecutors also withheld key evidence from Griffin's defense regarding a screwdriver that had been found on another inmate.
Griffins sentence was eventually changed to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and in 2011, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned Griffin's conviction, saying that the conviction was not "worthy of confidence." He was released, but prosecutors immediately filed charges to retry him, citing DNA evidence that allegedly tied him to the murder.
However, that DNA evidence didn't "pan out", according to prosecutors, and the state dismissed the charges.
It took 30 years to clear his name, but Griffin is glad to put the nightmare behind him. "To not have this over my head is more than what words can describe.Now that it's over, I'm
going to try to put my life back together, to go on with my life," he told The Associated Press.
Griffin is the first death row exoneration of 2013, and the 4th person exonerated from Missouri. To find out more about death row exonerations, visit DPIC's Innocence Database.
Congratulations to Reggie, and to the team of lawyers who worked tirelessly to clear his name.
Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/10/30/4587051/ex-death-row-inmate-exonerated.html#storylink=cpy
Kevin Cooper, a death row inmate in California, has been granted a hearing regarding human rights violations with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which seeks to protect human rights and basic freedoms in the Americas. Cooper has been on death row in California for 29 years, and has always maintained his innocence.
Attorneys for Cooper stated that they are “hopeful
that the Commission will issue a decision directing that the United
States provide Mr. Cooper with a new trial in order to allow him to
prove once and for all that he is innocent of these crimes.”
Death Penalty Focus has submitted a letter to the Commission in support of Kevin Cooper, which expresses our concern about the facts of this case, as well as our stance that the death penalty is never an appropriate sentence.
To: Honorable Commissioners of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights
From: Mike Farrell, Chair of the Board of Directors of Death Penalty Focus
Virginia Van Zandt, Interim Executive Director of Death Penalty Focus
Re: Kevin Cooper v. United States, Case No. 12.831
Dear Members of the Court,
We write representing the Board of Directors, staff and thousands of members/supporters of Death Penalty Focus, one of the premier abolition organizations in the United States, in support of your attention to the plight of Kevin Cooper.
While we do not pretend to be qualified to judge the legal questions surrounding Kevin Cooper’s case, our 25 years of work against the death penalty in California and across the nation have made us painfully aware of the glaring faults inherent in this inappropriate, ineffective system and the grievous errors committed in its implementation. California houses our nation’s, and possibly the world’s, largest death row, currently encaging 742 condemned men and women.
Because of a judicially imposed moratorium, there has not been an execution in California in 7 years. This moratorium, however, can end at any moment and, regardless of the state’s ability to carry out executions, the condemned struggle to subsist under conditions which a recent report by our Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) says “clearly violate the United Nations Convention Against Torture.” This opinion, regarding both death row conditions and the death penalty itself, is shared by Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.
As is the case with every killing state in the U.S., capital punishment’s use in California is primarily limited to racial minorities and those too poor to be able to afford an adequate defense. California has barely escaped killing six innocent men* who were tried, convicted, sentenced to death and spent years fearfully awaiting the executioner before finally being exonerated and freed.
But we did execute Thomas Thompson in 1998, a man Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a long-time veteran of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, described (New York University Law Journal) as “the first person in the Nation ever to be executed on the basis of a trial that an un-refuted decision of a United States Court of Appeals had held to be unconstitutional.”
While unable to argue the legal aspects of Kevin Cooper’s defense, we are keenly aware of the compelling 100-page dissent in a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in his case in which Judge William A. Fletcher stated that Mr. Cooper was “probably” innocent. Four other judges joined his opinion, stating that “California may be about to execute an innocent man.”
We commend your careful attention to this troubling case.
Chair, Board of Directors
Virginia Van Zandt
Interim Executive Director
* California death row exonerees: Troy Lee Jones, Lee Perry Farmer, Jerry Bigelow, Patrick Croy, Shujaa Graham, Oscar Lee Morris
Herman Wallace endured 42 years of solitary confinement in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, decades of injustice, a battle with liver cancer so that he could finally say, "I am free." On Tuesday, October 1st Wallace was released and three days later he died in his sleep, due to his terminal disease. This case has received much spotlight because of the racism surrounding the conviction and the cruel treatment of being placed in SHU for decades. Herman Wallace is not a lone example of the injustices of the criminal system as he accounts for one of the Angola 3. The 'Angola 3,' Herman Wallace, Robert King and Albert Woodfox, were charged with the murder of a prison guard, Brent Miller, in 1972. At the time of the murder, the 'Angola 3' were completing a sentence for armed robbery and played key roles in the Black Panther movement within the prison. Since their accusation of killing the guard, The Angola 3, were removed from general prison population and continue to claim their innocence.
Their trial was far from fair and decades of appeals have not produced enough change. As of today, October 4, Wallace has passed away with a looming re-indictment, King is free after having his conviction overturned in 2001, and Woodfox continues to live in solitary confinement. Justice will prevail when the court overturns all convictions and the 'Angola 3' receive an apology. But then, we should ask ourselves, is this really justice?
Herman, Your spirit will continue to inspire people to fight for a more humane and just world.
Tonight, Texas executed its 500th person since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
It is the first state to reach this unseemly milestone, with current Governor Rick Perry playing a major part, having presided over 260 executions (also a record). It’s a shocking number, and though it is certainly is a grim milestone, what does Texas executing its 500th person actually say about the current state of the death penalty in the United States?
The truth is: not much.
The death penalty has been in decline since the late-1990s, when executions reached a fever pitch.
In the past six years, six states have replaced their death penalty with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, which brings the number of death penalty-free states to 18. Of those 32 states that still have a death penalty on the books, only six have executed anyone this year.
Since life in prison without the possibility of parole became an alternative, juries have also been less inclined to sentence people to death. Even in Texas, the rate at which people are being sentenced to death is falling dramatically.
The current state of the death penalty is not reflected by this astronomical number. It is reflected in the downward trends in executions and new death sentences. It is reflected in the growing number of states that have replaced the death penalty. It is reflected in the shrinking number of states that are actually executing people.
Texas’ 500th execution is sobering, but the movement to replace the death penalty is only speeding up. The death penalty is prohibitively expensive, it’s taking away resources from programs that actually improve public safety, and we’re sentencing innocent people to die.
The death penalty is on the path toward demise, and Death Penalty Focus is committed to seeing this through to the end. Tonight was a grim reminder that our work is not yet done, but each year, we come closer to achieving our goal of ending the death penalty in the United States.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of Sister Helen Prejean’s bestselling book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States. In celebration of this anniversary, the book will be re-released tomorrow, June 18th!
This book, recounting Sister Helen’s experience and bond with death row inmate, Patrick Sonnier, helped bring more attention to the death penalty. Sister Helen created a much needed discussion about the death penalty, and though much progress has been made since the book was first released twenty years ago, she continues to work tirelessly to put an end to Capital Punishment once and for all.
This book has opened the eyes of the thousands of readers, and will continue to bring awareness to the death penalty issue in the years to come. Who knows? Perhaps for the 40th anniversary of Dead Man Walking, we will be celebrating the end of the death penalty in the U.S.!
They are supported by a broad coalition of charity partners of which we're excited to be a part and the project is totally interactive, which means you can have a hand in asking the questions and giving your feedback on the films as they're released.
In order to make this project happen, One for Ten needs support and funding. Watch what their project is all about, and if you want to see more, consider contributing to their campaign.
You can support this project by LIKING them on Facebook, FOLLOWING them on Twitter and SHARING their campaign with your networks.
We know that California's death penalty is broken. This new infographic by the California Innocence Project breaks down why - cost, wrongful convictions, and racial injustice. While California didn't vote to end the death penalty this time, the conversation must continue and more people must learn about these staggering statistics.
“The death penalty in California survived by a narrow vote on November 6, but around the country the signs are clear that capital punishment is slowly on the way out,” writes Richard Dieter, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center, in his article “The Slow Demise of the Death Penalty.”
“Although California's recent vote means the death penalty will remain, the 47% of voters who favored replacing it indicates many Californians have had a change of heart regarding capital punishment. By contrast, the initiative that reinstated the death penalty in 1978 garnered the support of 71% of voters.”
It's crunch time! We are now counting the days until November 6, when Californians will have a chance to vote YES on Proposition 34 to replace the state’s death penalty with life without the possibility of parole.
Death Penalty Focus has been a critical part of this effort, and now we're reaching out to ask our community for support.
The campaign is seeking volunteers to fill each of the following important roles:
Phone Banking: Help reach 100,000 voters by calling through a targeted list. Yes on 34 staff will train and prepare you to have these critical one-on-one conversations. You can join one of many phone bank locations or you can call from the comfort of your home.
Door-to-Door Canvassing: Join Democrats and other Prop 34 allies as they go door-to-door in their neighborhoods, passing out literature and discussing the important issues and candidates on this years ballot in order to ensure that our supporters go to the polls and vote!
Street Outreach: Meet up with fellow volunteers in your area at one of the many community festivals and events happening the Friday before the election. As a group, you will pass out flyers and answer questions about the initiative to passersby. The Monday and Tuesday before the election, Yes on 34 volunteers will be passing out flyers at busy transit locations.
Office Help: Help Yes on 34 prepare materials for Get Out The Vote by cutting flyers, packaging materials, and making volunteer recruitment phone calls.
Please sign up to volunteer via the Yes on 34 site here.
Thank you for your help - on November 6, we will make history!
It is often said that the death penalty is needed to give closure to the families who have lost their loved ones. But what if you find that the death penalty does not give you closure, relief, or justice?
In a series of videos, our CCV members explain why they have chosen to support alternatives to the death penalty. Please take a moment and watch!
Francisco “Franky” Carrillo Jr. was exonerated in March 2011 after serving two decades for a drive-by shooting he did not commit. Franky was just 16 years old when six witnesses identified him as the shooter. All six eventually recanted their testimony, admitting that they were influenced to make their identifications by the police and by each other. Franky now works as a Justice Advocate with DPF to tell his story and educate the public about the real danger of incarcerating and even executing the innocent.
After almost nine years in prison (two of which spent on death row), DNA evidence acquitted Kirk Bloodsworth of the 1984 rape and murder of nine-year-old Dawn Hamilton. Kirk, a former Marine, was connected to the crime by testimony from five witnesses and forensic evidence that supposedly linked the print of his shoes with marks on the victim’s body. It wasn’t until 1992, thanks to the help of Centurion Ministries of Princeton, New Jersey, that Kirk obtained approval for the DNA testing that proved his innocence. The first U.S. death row prisoner to be exonerated by DNA, Kirk now travels the country speaking for Witness to Innocence.
Nathson “Nate” Fields spent almost 20 years in prison, including more than 11 years on death row, for a double homicide he did not commit. Nate and a co-defendant were accused of killing members of a rival gang in 1984, and in 1998, it was uncovered that the judge in Nate’s case had taken a $10,000 bribe. Nate was granted a new trial, but his co-defendant exchanged testimony against him for a lesser sentence. However, in 2009, Nate was acquitted of all charges and was awarded a certificate of innocence. Nate serves on the board of Witness to Innocence.
Franky, Kirk, and Nate spoke out about their experiences and why they support SAFE California at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and Bethel AME Church in Los Angeles and at St. Rita’s Catholic Church in San Diego.
(Image: Nate Fields and Kirk Bloodsworth enjoying the Los Angeles sun in between speaking engagements.)
Posted by Mary Kay Raftery, guest blogger on June 6th, 2012
My oldest son, Paul Raftery, was murdered on December 8, 2006 in Helena, Montana by two young men looking for drug money. Paul had no money in his wallet.
Prior to Paul’s murder, I had been involved with California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty. Sometimes, people would tell me that I would feel differently about my views on the death penalty if my child was murdered. After I received the call that Paul had been killed, I stopped to think about my opinion. It hadn’t changed.
I don't understand the concept of closure. After all, putting someone to death, in my case those two murderers, will never bring my sorely missed son back. The two murderers received sentences of life with the possibility of parole after 55 years, essentially a life sentence. I felt justice had been served.
I’d had the chance to talk to Paul about my activities with the California People of Faith. That’s when he quietly told me he, too, opposed the death penalty. I was surprised, but very gratified that he shared my beliefs having served 12 years as a law enforcement officer.
In November, Californians will have the opportunity to vote for SAFE California, a ballot initiative that will replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. This measure will save Californians over $1 billion in the next five years and create a one-time fund of $100 million to help local police investigate and solve the 46% of unsolved murders across the state.
My hope is that no mother is forced to endure the loss of a child to violent crime. That is why I believe so strongly in using our resources to prevent crime and keep our streets safe. The death penalty costs Californians $184 million a year more than the alternative but equally harsh punishment, life in prison without the possibility of parole. That money would be better spent hiring more police officers to help protect our communities.
I also believe that we need to be providing for the victims of these horrible acts. SAFE California means that victims will not be dragged through decades of appeals. Inmates will be locked up behind bars forever, where they will work and pay money toward restitution and victim compensation. They will lose the special privileges that death row provides them, including their own cell. And the tremendous savings will help free up money to support victim services like counseling and medical treatment.
It has now been five years since the young men who murdered our son were sentenced and we received justice. To honor Paul, I am expressing my support for the SAFE California Campaign. I hope that others will see that it is time we start using limited resources to address the real issues behind violent crime, and to help the victims that are left behind.
This Monday, I will honor Dr. King’s passionate commitment to justice by volunteering to gather the signatures that will help us end the death penalty in California.
This upcoming weekend, January 14-16, will be a “Weekend of Action” where you can join us in this effort. Volunteers will be joined by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, the California NAACP, and civil rights leaders throughout the state as we come together in support of the SAFE California Campaign. The SAFE California Campaign has less than two months to gather the remainder of signatures required to qualify for the November 2012 ballot, and volunteers are needed to help reach our goal.
The SAFE California campaign is sponsored by a broad coalition of justice organizations, including Death Penalty Focus, who are all joined in the commitment to replace the death penalty to protect the innocent, save our very limited state resources, and improve safety in our communities. SAFE is working hard to get the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to qualify the “Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement for California Act” ballot initiative in time for the November 2012 election.
I am proud to say that Death Penalty Focus is one of the organizations leading this effort. For over 20 years, we have worked to get to this point, and with your help, we can make history in California this November.
We also take the time this coming weekend to honor all victims of senseless violence. Coretta Scott King declared, “As one whose husband and mother-in-law have died the victims of murder assassination, I stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offenses.” As Coretta Scott King knew, in order to create a future with less crime, we must end this risky and costly punishment.
Now is the time to step forward and join together in this campaign to end the death penalty in California. As a member of Death Penalty Focus, I hope you will join the thousands of volunteers statewide who are ready to commemorate Dr. King’s leadership by joining this historic movement over MLK weekend.
2011 has been a year of tremendous achievements, heartbreaking losses and,
at last, real hope for change in California.
In March, Illinois followed New York, New Jersey and New Mexico and abolished
the death penalty. Two months later, we at Death Penalty Focus were
thrilled to honor Illinois Governor Pat Quinn at our Annual Awards Dinner.
Governor Quinn, who had long supported the death penalty, spent two months
deliberating on his decision. At our event he spoke eloquently about his
change of heart. "If the system can't be guaranteed 100% error-free, then
we shouldn't have the system," Quinn said. "It cannot stand."
April brought the incredible Jeanne Woodford to Death Penalty Focus
as our new Executive Director. For those of you who have not yet had the
pleasure of meeting Jeanne, please hear me when I say that she is our secret
weapon for ending the death penalty in California - and beyond. As the
warden of San Quentin State Prison, Jeanne experienced the pain of overseeing
four executions. After leaving San Quentin, she was appointed to head the
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Today, the more
people Jeanne has the opportunity to meet and talk with, the more support we
gain for ending the death penalty. It’s almost that simple. Put Jeanne in front
of a group of death penalty supporters and before long their support begins to
evaporate. We are thrilled to have her on board.
I am also thrilled that, last week, Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon halted
executions in his state. In a simple but uncompromising statement, he echoed
the growing distaste for capital punishment being heard in many of our courts,
our legislatures, churches, and homes. "I am convinced,” he wrote,
“we can find a better solution that keeps society safe, supports the victims of
crime and their families and reflects Oregon values. I refuse to be a
part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not
allow further executions while I am Governor." Bravo Governor
September brought the heartbreaking execution of Troy Davis. Yet, even on that
most awful day, Mr. Davis himself understood that his death would galvanize
support for ending this barbaric practice. On his last day he said,
"There are so many more Troy Davis’. This fight to end the death penalty
is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save
every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this
unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country…Never stop
fighting for justice and we will win!"
I wholeheartedly agree with Troy Davis. We will win. In fact, next
November California voters have the chance to replace the death penalty with
life without parole.
Here at Death Penalty Focus, we know what it takes to convince people to
end the death penalty. DPF excels at empowering exonorees, crime victims’
families, and law enforcement professionals to be effective spokespersons for
alternatives to the death penalty. We know from focus groups that these voices
are the most effective in changing hearts and minds.
Posted by Margo Schulter on November 3rd, 2011 November 3, 2011
A story that has stuck with me over the decades comes from a school civics text. A criminal came into the town of Milwaukee and killed a man. He was arrested in the morning, tried in the afternoon, and that evening was already serving his life sentence in the State Penitentiary. Sadder but wiser, he expressed admiration for Milwaukee as a place which stood up for justice.
This brand of swift and decisive "frontier justice" in homicide cases is a topic of stories not only in Wisconsin, which abolished the death penalty in 1853, but also in Michigan, famed as the first English-speaking jurisdiction to abolish it for murder in 1846 (the death penalty for treason technically remained on the books until 1963). Society's message was clear: take a human life through premeditated murder, and you'll spend the rest of your natural life in prison.
While we may be unable in 21st-century California literally to achieve same-day justice in homicide cases, the SAFE California Initiative will provide the same kind of swift, certain, and nonlethal justice that the old stories from places such as Michigan and Wisconsin celebrate. And by comparison to the decades-long ordeal often inflicted by our broken death penalty system on families of murder victims and condemned prisoners alike as well as society at large, the progress of a life without parole case from arrest to trial to permanent imprisonment of the murderer may seem almost as fast as in those stories of a century or more ago.
One feature of the initiative may recall another phrase of old: "life at hard labor." Under the SAFE California Act, prisoners sentenced to life without parole will be required to perform labor and make restitution to the Victims' Services fund. Not only will they live and die in prison, but they will be held accountable both to the families of their victims, and to society at large as the victim of every assault on the sanctity of human life.
It would be naive, of course, to think that society can devise any punishment that will deter all murders. All too often, for example, we hear of mass shootings where the offender commits suicide with the final shot, or has a history of suicide attempts; so the death penalty hardly seems to dissuade them. However, if there is an effective deterrent to make some potential killers think twice, it might be life and death in prison plus labor and restitution to society. This is especially true if word gets out on the street that the law is really being enforced.
The SAFE California Act makes a commitment to help get that word out by directing $100 million over the period 2012-2016 to a SAFE California Fund to improve the rates at which homicide and rape cases are solved and the perpetrators arrested and punished. Getting killers off the streets not only directly prevents more homicides or other violent crimes by these same perpetrators, but indeed sends a message of deterrence to others.
Currently, with 46% of homicides and 56% of rapes going unsolved, that message is not so clear. What we need to do is to establish very clearly, in practice as well as theory, that killing one's victim in the course of a robbery or sexual assault -- in order to prevent them from making an identification or testifying, for example -- is a recipe for swift detection and a sentence of life, labor, and death in prison.
The SAFE California Fund is a first giant step at making swift and certain punishment a reality. As the Attorney General's summary of the initiative very cautiously estimates, abolishing our broken death penalty system will produce savings "in the high tens of millions of dollars annually," with the Fund thus representing only a relatively small portion of these savings. A recent study by federal Ninth Circuit Judge Arthur Alarcon and Loyola Law School Professor Paula Mitchell suggests savings of $184 million a year, greater than the total amount of the Fund over the full four-year period! The Legislature, of course, will be free to apply more of these savings to local law enforcement and also to crime prevention strategies such as mental health interventions, while retaining needed flexibility at a time of budgetary crisis.
While swift and certain justice is always an ideal to be striven for, the old stories remind us that society can respond to the tragedy of murder in a clear, decisive, and nonlethal way. The SAFE California Act is an invitation to clear the decks of a failed death penalty policy, roll up our sleeves, and give our police the support that they need as we move together toward a safer and saner future.
We reported to you recently that we are working hard now for the SAFE
California initiative to replace California's death penalty with life without the possibility of parole in 2012. When we suceed in California, it will be big news all over
the world, particularly in our large international abolition movement.
In 1988, when DPF was founded, only 35 nations worldwide had abolished the
death penalty completely, and another 18 had abolished it for ordinary crimes.
Today, 139 countries, most of the nations on earth, have abolished the death
penalty in law or in practice. The US, sadly, is in the very bad company
of China, Iran, North Korea and Yemen as one of the top five executing nations,
but we are working every day to be a strong part of the international trend
away from capital punishment.
Death Penalty Focus is in the leadership of this international
abolition movement, as a member of the Steering Committee of the World
Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Every year, on October 10th, World
Day Against the Death Penalty, the World Coalition's 125 member organizations
in 35 countries, participate in an international program of education and activism
against the death penalty.
This year, the 9th World Day Against the Death Penalty is
focusing on The Inhumanity
of the Death Penalty. We have launched a Petition drive in support of the
United Nations resolution calling for a worldwide end to the use of the death
penalty. This resolution will be voted on in the General Assembly of the UN
in December of 2012.
We hope you will join DPF in the leadership of US participation in this international
movement toward abolition by signing the 2011
International Petition Against the Death Penalty. This movement is growing
and gaining momentum, both in the US and all over the world, and we are very
excited to be a part of it.
In the immediate wake of the tragic
execution of Troy Davis, killed by the State of Georgia despite serious doubts
concerning his guilt and widespread appeals for clemency even from usual death
penalty supporters, one of the most moving voices was that of Allen Ault, former
Director of the Georgia Department of Corrections, who had himself supervised
and helped carry out executions in Georgia.
As part of the movement to save Troy Davis's life, Ault had joined with former
San Quentin Warden Jeanne Woodford and other retired corrections officials asking
the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to reconsider its decision denying
clemency to Davis, a decision reached according to one account by an
agonizingly close 3-2 vote.
Interviewed by Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC only minutes after the
execution of Troy Davis, Ault spoke directly about the experience of carrying
out a death sentence:
"It's one thing to
theorize about it or talk about it abstractly, but when you're in the
death chamber ordering an execution, and even if you… actually believe
somebody isguilty, it's still a very premeditated murder. It's scripted and
rehearsed. It's about as premeditated as any killing you can do."
Talking with Maddow about the special burdens placed on "people of
conscience" carrying out an execution where there are doubts about guilt,
as in Davis's case, Ault emphasized the more general issue of killing itself:
"It['s] exacting a toll
whether you believe they're innocent or they're guilty. You're actually killing
Ault mentioned getting letters from citizens eager to volunteer for the post of
"There are people
without conscience, psychopathic type people, some of them politicians, and sadists
who would volunteer. I would hate to see us fall; to be that depraved that they
would let people like that do the execution.”
"I can't see the
justification. If we're just reaping vengeance for somebody, I don't see the
that either. I talked to a lot of families of victims who didn't feel fulfilled
after the execution took place. I can't speak for all the families of victims,
but I know I've talked to many."
That same day, one of those family members, Ross Byrd in Texas, experienced, as
did Ault, the sadness and defeat of an execution after he had struggled for clemency.
Byrd is the son of James Byrd, an African-American who became the victim of an
especially horrible act of racist hate: being tied to a motor vehicle and literally
dragged to his death. As Byrd explained, in words much like those of Ault, why
he sought clemency for Lawrence Brewer: "We can't fight murder with
As mentioned above, one of the signers of the appeal by retired corrections
officials to save Troy Davis's life is Jeanne Woodford, now Executive Director
of Death Penalty Focus. Like Ault, she learned at first hand "how empty
and futile the act of execution is."
"As the warden of San
Quentin, I presided over four executions. After each one, someone on the staff
would ask: `Is the world safer because of what we did tonight?'
"We knew the answer:
With the killing of a prisoner where innocence is at issue such as Troy Davis
-- or Tommy Thompson in California (July 14, 1998) -- the toll on corrections
officials and officers may be especially high. But the psychological and
spiritual price of brutalization is too high in any execution, not to mention
the price, human and fiscal, exacted upon society at large, which means us all.
As Woodford sums things up:
"To say that I have regrets about my involvement in the death penalty is
to let myself off the hook too easily. To take a life in order to prove how
much we value another life does not strengthen our society. It is a public
policy that devalues our very being and detracts crucial resources from
programs that could truly make our community safe."
To honor Troy Davis, and also Officer Mark MacPhail for whose murder he may
have been executed although innocent, Death Penalty Focus and the SAFE
California campaign will continue our movement to abolish the death penalty in
California at the ballot box in 2012 and provide better support to law enforcement
and victims' services. That would be a fitting legacy for these two victims of
In the earthquake cottage I shared with my husband, on the night of July 13th 1998, the phone rang. It was about 10:00pm. The summer fog would have rolled through the Alemany gap several hours before. It would have been a cold damp night and though bed was the reasonable place to be on a night like that, I was up waiting. My husband and his colleagues were awake too, trying not just to wait, trying to stave off the helplessness they were feeling. They were at the office working to bring as much media attention to the night as they could, legal options having been exhausted.
Thomas Thompson had been within hours of his execution a year before when a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had spared him. This stay was now permanently vacated and once again he was scheduled to die within hours.
My husband had been with him at the prison. Thompson's mother had been there too in the private visiting room, where state procedure allows for a shackled last few hours. Trays of cold cuts and cheeses lay on a table bringing to mind working lunches, staff meetings and birthday parties. Was anyone hungry?
At six o'clock, the visitors including the lawyers were required to leave. A member of Thompson's legal team would come later to be a witness, while the rest worked on.
That is how my husband came to be at the office while the collect call from San Quentin came to our house. Upon accepting the charges I heard for the first time the voice of the man who had occupied so much of my married life, the man who my husband was fiercely trying to protect from the ultimate punishment.
In the summer of 1981, I was a skinny kid in a red and white bathing suit playing in the waves and collecting shells washed up on the sand in Laguna Beach, California. That same summer in that very vacation town an awful situation or plot, depending on how you look at it, was brewing for Ginger Fleishli and Thomas Thompson. By early September of that year, Ginger's body was found wrapped in a sleeping bag in a field.
The man convicted of this crime was now asking me whether my husband was home. No he was not, he was at the office. Did he have the number I asked? He did, and that was all there was to say. What does one say to someone who is keeping a stiff upper lip and who for the second time in a year is staring into the face of death by injection? I stumbled and bumbled, almost saying "good luck" before I said the only thing there was to say, "Goodbye."
I hung up the phone feeling as though the wing of death had brushed overhead, through the fog that blanketed my husband's office, our home and the prison.
Last night, my husband listened to the radio quietly to hear the fate of Troy Davis while I put the kids to bed. This morning I woke to find him going through his morning chores, heavy hearted. The U.S. Supreme Court had cleared the way for Troy Davis' execution and he had been put to death.
A reporter had called my husband in Troy Davis' final hours to ask whether my husband saw any connection between the Thompson and the Davis case. There was so much doubt raised upon appeal about the defendant's guilt. Each man faced a breathtaking stutter-stop journey of temporary defense victories on the way to the death chamber. My husband pointed out these things.
But it is the second thing, common to all cases, this bumpy road of hope and despair while fate hangs in the hands of others that is the final, impossible obscenity of the death penalty and the creepy thing that made our hearts heavy this morning as we got the kids ready for school.
These cases are subjected to level upon level of review in an attempt to ensure that the death penalty is administered properly; states search for ways to kill people that do not set their hair on fire or suffocate them while the are too tightly strapped to writhe; as we do all this, the one thing we cannot do anything about, is the forcing of an otherwise healthy person to stare for years at their untimely death, as they swing between hope and despair.
It is impossible to imagine what this is like, as impossible as finding the right words to say, when a man in this position, in his last hours, calls on the phone.