Abolitionist of the Month: Pope Francis
Posted by Mary Kate DeLucco on October 7th, 2015
“The Golden Rule ... reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty.”
It was the first time a reigning Pope has ever addressed the U.S. Congress. And in that historic speech on September 24, Pope Francis’s call was clear: Abolish the death penalty.
“Every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” he said.
He also reaffirmed the stated position of U.S. Catholic Bishops that “the death penalty is unnecessary and unjustified in our time and circumstances.”
“Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation,” Francis said.
HIs message was unconditional: If you believe that every life is sacred, as Catholicism and many other religions teach, you cannot support the death penalty. That message could be why Catholic U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas did not attend the speech. All three are staunch supporters of the death penalty. In fact, at a Pew Research Center conference on religion and the death penalty in 2002, Scalia said, “The choice for the judge who believes the death penalty to be immoral is resignation rather than simply ignoring duly enacted constitutional laws and sabotaging the death penalty.” And he said, “You want to have a fair death penalty? You kill, you die. That’s fair.”
Whether the Pope’s remarks will affect how the Supreme Court, and especially its five conservative Catholic justices, will rule on death penalty appeals remains to be seen. But as U.C. Hastings College of the Law Professor Rory Little points out on scotusblog.com (http://www.scotusblog.com/2015/09/as-the-2015-term-opens-the-courts-unusual-eighth-amendment-focus/), in the term that opened this month, the Supreme Court will review five Eighth Amendment issues, four of them death penalty, meaning “This term may be the biggest Eighth Amendment term in 40 years.”
And he believes that the review of these five cases also “signals...the deep cultural (as well as economic and federalism) concerns that Americans in general seem to have regarding capital punishment.”
There is no question the Pope’s call for abolition was significant. It engendered headlines, and much analysis in the media. Its repercussions remain to be seen. But as Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, who co-chaired the 2002 Pew Conference at which Justice Scalia spoke, has said, “I think the religious community has played an enormous role in having people question their consciences about where they stand on the death penalty.”
Pope Francis is continuing his efforts to play a role in abolishing capital punishment. Just days after returning to Rome from his trip to the United States, he sent a letter to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles asking it to commute the sentence of Kelly Gissendaner, the only woman on the state’s death row. "While not wishing to minimize the gravity of the crime for which Ms. Gissendaner has been convicted, and while sympathizing with the victims, I nonetheless implore you, in consideration of the reasons that have been expressed to your board, to commute the sentence to one that would better express both justice and mercy," the Pope wrote.
The Board did not commute Gissendaner’s sentence, and in fact, executed her shortly after midnight on September 29th, hours after the board received Pope Francis’s letter. She was the first woman in 70 years to be executed in Georgia.
But Pope Francis is not giving up. It was revealed that he had sent another letter on September 14 asking Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin to commute the death sentence of Richard Glossip, who was scheduled to be executed on September 30. Like the letter to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, it was written on behalf of Pope Francis by Archbishop Carlo Vigano, and stated, “Together with Pope Francis, I believe that a commutation of Mr. Glossip’s sentence would give clearer witness to the value and dignity of every person’s life, and would contribute to a society more cognizant of the mercy that God has bestowed upon us all.”
Glossip’s execution was delayed, but not because of the Pope’s appeal. FIrst, Governor Fallin issued a 37-day stay to give the state time to address “last minute questions ...raised about Oklahoma’s execution protocol and the chemicals used for lethal injection.” A day after Fallin’s order, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a staunch defender of the death penalty, asked the state Court of Criminal Appeals to postpone all scheduled executions, including two others slated for October, citing the state’s problems in its drug protocols.
So the tide may be turning. In a speech he gave at Rhodes College in Memphis two days before Pope Francis’s address to Congress, Scalia told the students he “wouldn't be surprised” if the Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in the near future.
Pope Francis calls for Global Abolition
Posted by Leslie Fulbright on September 24th, 2015
Pope Francis called for global abolition of the death penalty during his address to Congress today, saying human life must be protected and defended at every stage of development.
“Every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” the Pope said.
“Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.
The call comes at an important time. Arkansas is preparing to resume executions after a 10-year hiatus. And the states of Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Virginia and Texas all have executions set in the next two months.
Read the Pope's full speech here.
Arkansas Sets Execution Dates for Eight Men
Posted by Leslie Fulbright on September 23rd, 2015
After a decade long hiatus, the state of Arkansas plans to resume executions in October and recently set dates for eight inmates to die.
Governor Asa Hutchinson (former director of the DEA) announced execution dates after Attorney General Leslie Rutledge requested it be done as quickly as possible. She said the inmates ran out of appeals and assured the governor the state has the drugs to carry out the executions.
The 10-year delay was largely due to drug shortages and court challenges to execution procedures.
In August, the state of Arkansas approved a new lethal injection protocol. It’s a three-drug cocktail that includes midazolam, the drug blamed for botched executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma. Despite concerns about whether the drug is constitutional, the Supreme Court narrowly rejected a challenge and approved its continued use in June.
It is unknown how the Arkansas Department of Corrections got the drugs or what company they were purchased from. A state secrecy law allows the state to shield the name of the supplier. Attorney Jeff Rosenzweig, who represents nine death row inmates, has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of that secrecy law.
The planned resumption of executions in Arkansas comes at a time when states across the nation have stopped executions and public support continues to drop.
There are currently 34 inmates on death row in Arkansas.
Here are the names and execution dates for the eight inmates scheduled to die.
Bruce Earl Ward
Don William Davis
Terrick Terrell Nooner
Stacey Eugene Johnson
Marcel Wayne Williams
Jack Harold Jones
Stay of Execution granted for Richard Glossip
Posted by Leslie Fulbright on September 16th, 2015
A last minute filing by attorneys for Richard Glossip led to a two-week stay of execution for the Oklahoma man who was hours from being killed Wednesday.
The court said it must give fair consideration to the materials submitted by attorneys. There is mounting evidence that Glossip may not be responsible for the crime which led to his death sentence.
Glossip was convicted of murder in 1997 for the death his boss Barry Van Treese. He wasn't the actual killer. The man who confessed to the killing, Justin Sneed, said Glossip hired him for the murder. The only evidence to support this theory was testimony from Sneed himself.
Both men were charged with murder, and both were convicted. But prosecutors only sought the death penalty in Glossip's case. Sneed, after cooperating with prosecutors by testifying against Glossip, was sentenced to life without parole.
The controversial case has led to strong public outcry, with supporters ranging from actress Susan Sarandon to former Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican death penalty proponent, demanding a reexamination of the case. More than 235,000 people signed a petition asking for the stay.
Sister Helen Prejean, Glossip's spiritual adviser, has led the fight to save his life.
A new execution date has been set for Sept. 30.
Read the stay order.
The Fight to Save Richard Glossip
Posted by Leslie Fulbright on September 10th, 2015
Actress Susan Sarandon and Sister Helen Prejean are on a crusade to save the life of a man scheduled to die on September 16. Richard Glossip, who was twice convicted for murder but maintains his innocence, has an execution date with the state of Oklahoma.
The women, along with hundreds of thousands of others around globe, believe Glossip was wrongfully convicted and should not be executed. The actress and anti-death penalty advocate want a chance to present information that wasn’t used at the trials. They have made multiple pleas to the governor and circulated a petition asking her to grant a stay which has more than 226,000 signatures. She, so far, has refused.
It’s a known fact that Glossip didn’t actually kill anyone. He was convicted in a 1997 murder for hire scheme. His first conviction was later overturned but he was convicted a second time in 2004 and sentenced to die again.
Glossip’s co-worker Justin Sneed admitted he killed their boss Barry Van Treese with a baseball bat at the Best Budget Inn in Oklahoma City. Prosecutors argued Glossip, who worked as a manager, made Sneed do this because he thought he was going to be fired. Glossip had no criminal record and there was no forensic evidence linking him to the crime.
A story by The Intercept outlines transcripts that show Sneed was encouraged to implicate Glossip and able to avoid the death penalty by testifying against him. His story became more detailed as time passed. His daughter wrote a letter to the Oaklahoma Pardon and Parole Board asking them to save Glossip. She said her father spoke to her about recanting his testimony. But he was afraid of losing his own deal.
Glossip had a reprieve last January when the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed his challenge to the lethal injection protocol. But once they upheld it, a new date for his death was set by the state.
Sister Helen, who serves as Glossip’s spiritual advisor, has created a page with multiple ways people can help.
World Day Against the Death Penalty
Posted by David Crawford on September 9th, 2015
13th Annual World Day Against the Death Penalty
Every year on October 10, people around the world rally to the cause of ending capital punishment. This year, the theme of World Day is "The Death Penalty Does Not Stop Drug Crimes."
In spite of a marked global movement away from the death penalty, so far in 2015 we've seen an alarming number of executions for drug-related offenses. Whereas around 75% of the world's countries have abolished the death
penalty in law or in practice, there are 33 that retain the option to
execute people for drug use or trafficking, and 13 have actually done so in
the last 5 years. This particularly the case in Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East. (Although the US Supreme Court ruled in Kennedy v. Louisiana that executions are unconstitutional for crimes in which a victim was not killed, it did not bar the death penalty for crimes against the state. Theoretically, this means that drug trafficking could be considered a death-penalty offense, but it would be unprecedented.)
Map of countries that retain the death penalty for drug offenses. Courtesy of World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.
Perhaps the most notorious incident this year was the execution of 8 of the so-called Bali 9 by the Indonesian government. It led to a worldwide movement to spare their lives, with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, legendary boxer Manny Pacquiao, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson condemning the killings along with hundreds of thousands of other people around the world.
People around the world used #KeepHopeAlive and #IStandForMercy to protest the execution of the Bali 9 earlier this year.
Reflecting on the executions, Branson wrote, "I hope some good will come out of these tragic events, as more and more people realise inhumane death penalty laws must end globally, now. [P]ublic disgust for the death penalty grows and hope increases that an end to the death penalty is in sight."
With these and other drug-related executions this year, it seems fitting that we turn our attention to this disturbing international aberration. Similar to a debunked, yet common, argument heard in the United States, the death penalty is said to be a deterrent to both drug abuse and drug trafficking in retentionist nations. As is the case with other crimes, there is no credible evidence to show that executions yield public safety benefits by decreasing drug abuse and importation. For example, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported that drug use remained fairly stable in countries that retain the death penalty for such offenses. Moreover, most of the people killed during this time frame were convicted for using cannabis, a drug that is relatively harmless when compared to others (including tobacco and alcohol), undermining the supposed "public health" interests retentionist governments cite to justify killing their own citizens and residents. The death penalty simply cannot solve the societal problems that lead people down the path toward serious drug abuse.
It is also argued that the death penalty is needed to prevent the illegal importation of drugs. That was, after all, the offense for which the Bali 9 were convicted. Many point to Singapore as an example of how such brutal and draconian polices do not even meet their own objectives, let alone live up to international human rights standards. Despite hanging hundreds of people, imports remain at record levels. Like drug abuse, the problem of drug trafficking will not be solved by executing people.
With all of that in mind, the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty is advocating for common-sense replacements for killing people in response to drug offenses:
- "Demand-reduction and harm-reduction programmes (prevention, treatment, education)."
- "Supply-reduction interventions (drug interdiction, dismantlement of drug trafficking organizations, alternative development programmes, eradication, control of precursor chemicals)"
- "Efforts to control illicit financial controls"
For more information about how to join in this year's global advocacy day against the executions for drug crimes, visit the World Coalition's World Day 2015 page.
Death Penalty Focus Week
Last year, we launched our first annual Death Penalty Focus Week in the days leading up to World Day Against the Death Penalty. We helped to organize events around the state of California to focus on the people and issues involved in the movement to make executions a thing of the past.
We featured events for people whose faith led them to work for the abolition of capital punishment, an event focusing on innocent people sentenced to die, and others to help raise funds for activists who are keeping the movement alive and well.
Innocence Day speakers Nick Yarris, Gloria Killian, Obie Anthony, Kash Register, and Ronnie Sandoval (mother of Arthur Carmona)
The "Innocence Day" event was particularly popular. Thanks to the help of Loyola Law School's Project for the Innocent, we were able to gather 5 people who have personally been effected by wrongful convictions and give them a platform to tell their stories. It even made the news in Los Angeles.
We are looking to have a second annual Death Penalty Focus Week in 2015, from October 4 to World Day on October 10. Stay tuned to deathpenalty.org, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more information about upcoming events. If you have an idea for an event in your area, contact David Crawford, DPF's Director of Community Outreach and Education, at email@example.com.
A Farewell to Julian Bond
Posted by Leslie Fulbright on September 9th, 2015
The abolitionist community lost a hero when civil rights leader Julian Bond passed away last month. Bond was largely known for his relentless work in the struggle for civil rights. But in addition to fighting racial discrimination, he was a tireless advocate for basic human rights like welfare legislation, a minimum wage provision, anti-poverty programs and an end to capital punishment.
Bond talked about his opposition to the death penalty in his early days when it was still unpopular, way before the country was as divided as it is now.
Bond grew up in Pennsylvania and went to Morehouse College in Atlanta. He helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was a leading voice during protests and marches for voting rights in the 1960s. He co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit fighting for civil rights in Montgomery, Ala., with Morris Dees and served as president.
“With Julian’s passing, the country has lost one of its most passionate and eloquent voices for the cause of justice,” wrote Dees. “He advocated not just for African Americans but for every group, indeed every person subject to oppression and discrimination, because he recognized the common humanity in us all.”
Death Penalty Focus President Mike Farrell met Bond in Atlanta in the early 80s when the two were touring with an anti-war show trying to raise awareness about the Reagan Administration’s policies in Central America.
“He was then and continued to be a keenly intelligent, accessible, outspoken leader on the important issues of the day, both domestic and foreign,” Farrell said. “He was always available, always open, always willing to lend an ear or a hand or a voice in support of the powerless, always ready to stand against mindless authoritarianism.“
Bond became chairman of the NAACP in 1998 and held that position for a decade.
Bond spoke out about all forms of discrimination and advocated for every group including the LGBT community. In an interview with Anderson Cooper in 2013, he urged the civil rights movement to join the fight for gay rights.
"I understand particularly if you're black and you like to think of the civil rights (movement) as something black people do," Bond said. "But this is not something we own. It's something we ought to share with others and say 'Try this, we did this and it worked, try this, don't do this, it didn't work that well.' Other things we ought to say to people, 'Do what we did, we will help you if we can, and remember, we are among you.'"
We join the country in mourning this visionary and tireless champion.
“Justice and equality was the mission that spanned his life,” said President Obama. “Julian Bond helped change his country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that.”
Below is a speech Bond made at the Skidmore College Commencement in May.
My grandfather was born in Kentucky in 1863, and because of this, freedom didn’t come for him until the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1863.
He and his mother were property, like a horse or a chair. As a young girl, she had been given away as a wedding gift to a new bride, and when that bride became pregnant, her husband—that’s my great-grandmother’s master and owner—exercised his right to take his wife’s slave as his mistress. That union produced two children, one of them my grandfather.
Your presence here attests to the value you place on education and your willingness to make sacrifices to obtain it. The same was true for my grandfather. At age 15, barely able to read or write, he hitched his tuition—a steer—to a rope and walked 100 miles across Kentucky to Berea College, and the college took him in. When he graduated from Berea 13 years later, the college asked him to deliver the commencement address.
He said then:
The pessimist from his corner looks out on the world of wickedness and sin and, blinded by all that is good or hopeful in the condition and progress of the human race, bewails the present state of affairs and predicts woeful things for the future. In every cloud he beholds a destructive storm, in every flash of lightning an omen of evil, and in every shadow that falls across his path a lurking foe.
He forgets that the clouds also bring life and hope, that lightning purifies the atmosphere, that shadow and darkness prepare for sunshine and growth, and that hardships and adversity nerve the race, as the individual, for greater efforts and grander victories.
“Greater efforts and grander victories”—that was the promise the generation born in slavery made a century and a half ago. That was the promise made by the generation that won the great world war for democracy seven decades ago. That was the promise made by those who brought democracy to America’s darkest corners five decades ago.
And that is the promise you must seek to honor as you leave these ceremonies and enter the world beyond.
When the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in 1954 in the case called Brown v. Board of Education, a vast army of nonviolent protestors rose up to challenge segregation’s morality as well. Students like you began embracing jail without bail, when they sat down to stand up for their rights. They attacked segregated ballot boxes across the South as well.
Throughout this period the federal government helped only reluctantly, and then only when white property or people seemed at risk. State and local government worked in active concert with white terrorists, and the movement had few allies.
But from the first it was a people’s movement. The cumulative acts of their passive resistance led to the three great civil rights milestones of the 1960s: the 1963 march on Washington, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
As we celebrate these milestones, we celebrate the ordinary women and men who made the movement mighty.
We celebrate Robert and Jeannie Graetz. On the Sunday after Rosa Parks’s arrest, Martin Luther King Jr. called on his congregation to join the planned one-day boycott. Other black ministers across the city did the same, as did one white minister, Robert Graetz, who pastored a black Lutheran congregation. Weeks after the boycott came to a successful end, the Graetzes’ home was virtually destroyed by a bomb while their family, including their four-day-old baby, slept.
We celebrate Dorothy Counts. She was 15 years old when, in September 1957, she enrolled in an all-white high school in Charlotte, North Carolina. As Dorothy walked to school, the wife of the leader of the White Citizens’ Council urged the boys to “keep her out” and the girls to spit on her. She kept on walking. Many people threw rocks at her. Many did spit on her—so many that her mother said when Dorothy got home her dress was so wet with spit she could wring it out.
We celebrate Hartman Turnbow, a black farmer in Mississippi, the most brutal state of the old Confederacy. I remember him. Dressed like the farmer in coveralls, boots, and an old hat, Mr. Turnbow carried a briefcase. When he opened the briefcase, there was nothing in it but an automatic. In April 1963, Mr. Turnbow went with a group of other black farmers in Holmes County, Mississippi, to try to register to vote. When the sheriff asked, “Who’ll be the first?” No one moved. Then Mr. Turnbow said, “Me, Hartman Turnbow. I came here to die to vote. I’m the first.”
Four days later, the Klan firebombed his home and fired multiple shots into the living room. Mr. Turnbow fired back. Then the sheriff charged him with arson, accusing him of setting fire to his own uninsured home.
We celebrate Fannie Lou Hamer. If Mississippi was the most repressive state, Mrs. Hamer was its most heroic freedom fighter. When the movement came to her town of Ruleville in 1962, she was 44 years old and a timekeeper on a plantation. She joined eagerly. She gave us a wonderful slogan when she said, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
The movement succeeded in spite of cowards planting bombs in the night, in spite of shots fired in the darkness, in spite of lynch mobs and hooded thugs, in spite, as Dr. King said, of the brutality of a dying order shrieking across the land.
In its successes, it has given you graduates much of what has brought you here today. As we honor you for what you have achieved, so should you honor them for what they achieved for you.
They helped you learn how to be free.
They gave you the freedom to enter the larger world protected from its worst abuses.
If you are black or female or gay, their struggles prevent your race or gender or sexual orientation from being the arbitrary handicap today that it was then.
If you belong to an ethnic minority or if you are disabled, your ethnicity or disability cannot now be used to discriminate against you as it was then.
If you are Catholic or Muslim or Jewish, your faith cannot be an impediment to your success.
As you grow older, because of what they did then, you will be able to work as long as you are capable.
Your job—your responsibility—is to make these protections more secure, to expand them for your generation and those who will soon follow you.
Our future as a nation depends on our willingness to continue to reach into the racial cleavage that defines American society and to change the racial contours of our world.
In 1954 the federal government’s brief in Brown argued that school desegregation was a Cold War imperative, a necessary weapon to win America’s battles overseas. Current events give us the same imperative—to prove to friend and foe alike that our commitment to justice is real.
Wherever you may go from here, if there are hungry minds or hungry bodies nearby, you can feed them. If there are precincts of the powerless poor nearby, you can organize them. If there is racial or ethnic injustice, you can attack and destroy it.
By this ritual today, you are about to be officially enrolled in an elite within our nation: the community of educated women and men. As you go forward from this place, we all hope you will do well. But we hope you will also do good.
You must place interest in principle above interest on principal.
An early attempt at ending illiteracy in the South developed a slogan that was also their method: “Each One Teach One” until all could read.
Perhaps your slogan could be “Each One Reach One.”
Each one reach one until all are registered and voting.
Each one reach one until all are productive citizens of our world.
Each one reach one until the weak are strong and the sick are healed.
Each one reach one until your problem is mine, until mine is yours.
Just as it is not enough not to do evil, it is not enough just to do good.
It may be helpful to think of your task in this way:
Two men sitting by a river see, to their great shock, a helpless baby floating by. They rescue the child, and to their horror another baby soon comes floating down the stream. When that child is pulled to safely, another child comes floating by.
“Come back!” yells the man in the water. “We must save this baby!”
“You save it,” the other man yells back. “I’m going to find out who is throwing babies in the river and I’m going to make them stop!”
Racial minorities serve society like the canaries that miners used to carry to warn them when the underground air was becoming too toxic to breathe. But too many people want to put gas masks on the canaries instead of eliminating the poison in the air. Too many want to put life preservers on the babies, instead of stopping them from being thrown into a treacherous, dangerous stream.
As you aspire to greater efforts and grander victories, you must be prepared to offer not just love but justice, not gas masks but pure air, not life preservers but an end to throwing babies away.
This is not easy work, but you know what hard work is— that is what brought you here today.
I urge you to continue to do and be your best—and to apply your talents not just to bettering yourselves, not just doing social service, but bringing social justice.
If my grandfather were here, I think he would ask me now, “What did you do with your freedom?” Some day someone will ask you, “What did you do with your education?”
Be sure you have an answer—for your family, your nation, your world. They are counting on you.
The Poetry of Wiley Bridgeman
Posted by Leslie Fulbright on September 9th, 2015
Where in our myriad of color could foundation lie
That kalidascope expressing amour
Those expectant ventures we'd traverse in joy
Those visions we came to adore
They be our height and buoyancy to depth
They were fancy within our minds
So Fancy Colors, psychologically
Gave birth to our infinite finds
They lie at our dawn, rooted in pace;
With the exceleration we learnt should be cheer
Humbled we were to those silent pells
Only in heart could we hear
Let us wake clever our fortitude
We were models in love's living rudder's
T'was the conviction where our foundation lie
A tenacity for Fancy Colors
My woman is
sensuous fibers of
Laughing out loud.
She hides her
behind sunlit blushes,
And never shows weaknesses
through sighs or tears.
Being raised by hero's
under southern skies,
She knows how to sop buttered bread
in mayple syrup.
She's a lover of today. . . . .
Tomorrow's dream love. . . . .
The Subject Compared
I am the subject, compared by you subjects, for your pleasure by subject,
This subject compared.
To compare the subject, the subject compared, one must honor as subject,
The first subject bared.
So play as the subject, with subjects in view,
Subjects from old, and subjects made new.
Such cancels subject's issue, doubting subjects for "why",
Enhancing the subjects main subject, you lie.
One above is an absolute, written above to view.
Guess it later or guess it now;
Nothing's old made new.
"God", you say, is subject's issue,
Whether you laugh or cry?
Well it's love I give, in a subject's fashion,
A subject as mine, no lie.
Jones v. Davis: An Update
Posted by Courtney Minick on September 9th, 2015
Last July, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California issued a ruling in Jones v. Davis that found California’s death penalty unconstitutional. In his opinion, Judge Cormac Carney wrote that delays in the capital sentencing scheme were so excessive that they resulted in an arbitrary and capricious application of the death penalty - which violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.
California’s Attorney General, Kamala Harris, appealed this decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and a three judge panel there heard oral arguments on Aug. 31. The panel will now convene and issue a ruling, though the timing is unclear.
The arguments in the appeal are fairly technical - they turn on whether the convicted man (Jones) exhausted his remedies in state court before presenting them to a federal judge. The legal doctrine of “exhaustion” requires him to present all of his arguments to state courts before entering the federal courts. In the Jones case, the state (represented by the Attorney General) argued that Jones failed to present this argument - that the delays violate the 8th Amendment - to the state court, and therefore the federal district court could not rule on it.
When Mr. Jones presented his appeal to the federal district court, Judge Carney ordered both parties to brief him on whether and why the system of capital punishment in California is constitutional. The judge then ruled on the basis of those briefs. The state argues that because those arguments were not first presented in its courts, they are not exhausted, and cannot be heard on appeal. The state wants the Ninth Circuit to send the case back to the California Supreme Court.
Lawyers for Mr. Jones argue that the state waived exhaustion when it submitted its arguments to the lower federal court. Waiver means that the state agreed to bypass a hearing in its own court, and they cannot now demand to be heard on that issue. Jones also argues that even if waiver did not occur, he is entitled to an exemption from exhaustion, because they state remedy is ineffective. The California Supreme Court takes years to issue decisions in death penalty appeals, and sending the matter back will only compound the delays that, under the lower court ruling, violate the Eighth Amendment.
The panel now retires to make its decision. There are several possible outcomes. The justices could find that Judge Carney’s decision was incorrect, and reinstate the sentence for Mr. Jones. Alternatively, the court could order that Mr. Jones present his arguments to the California Supreme Court (exhaust his remedies there), which would bring him back into federal court making these arguments again in four or five years. The most thrilling possibility, but one that is more unlikely, is that the panel would affirm the decision, leaving Judge Carney’s ruling to stand. A finding by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has the potential to apply to all of California’s death row inmates, and would effectively invalidate the state’s death penalty scheme.
If the panel affirms the lower court ruling, the state will most certainly appeal its way up to the United States Supreme Court. In the meantime, however, California’s executions will remain on hold. Pending litigation of this magnitude is likely to forestall judges from issuing death warrants.
Abolitionist of the Month: Jimmy Carter
Posted by Mary Kate DeLucco on September 9th, 2015
“It is clear that there are overwhelming ethical, financial, and religious reasons to abolish the death penalty,” former president Jimmy Carter wrote in a 2012 op-ed titled “Show Death Penalty the Door” in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Long considered by historians as one of the greatest ex-presidents in American history for his work in human rights, global health issues and promoting world peace, Carter’s opposition to the death penalty might seem unsurprising. Yet, his abolitionist stance has evolved over the past 42 years, transforming him from death penalty advocate into a staunch opponent.
In 1973, while serving as governor of Georgia, Carter played an instrumental role in convincing the U.S. Supreme Court to lift the moratorium on the death penalty it imposed a year earlier. He did this by signing into law guidelines for applying the death penalty that met the court’s criteria for constitutional executions in the case Gregg v. Georgia in 1976. And with that case, the national moratorium on executions was lifted.
At a national death penalty symposium sponsored by the Carter Center and the American Bar Association in 2013, Carter said, “In complete honesty, when I was governor I was not nearly as concerned about the unfairness of the application of the death penalty as I am now. I know much more now. I was looking at it from a much more parochial point of view – I didn’t see the injustice of it as I do now.”
In an interview with the Guardian that same year, Carter said he wanted the Supreme Court to look at the “totality of the death penalty once again” and “rule that it is cruel and unusual punishment, which would make it prohibitive under the U.S. constitution.”
Carter’s about-face on the constitutionality and morality of the death penalty mirrors a shift in public opinion in the United States. For years, the great majority of Americans supported capital punishment, but the tide has shifted in recent years, with support steadily decreasing. Polls released in April by Pew Research Center and CBS News both reported that 56 percent of Americans support the death penalty -- the lowest ever recorded by CBS, and one of the lowest reported by Pew in the last 40 years.
But Carter, a former president and former governor of a Southern state, as well as the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, is one of the most prominent public figures to call for abolition. It’s a courageous stance, one not many American politicians are willing to take. But Carter has spent his life taking a stand on what he believes to be right, not what is politically expedient.
“I think any time a person concedes error on a very contentious issue it takes courage. It’s easier to stick with what you’ve said or done than admit you were wrong. I give him a lot of credit for being willing to step up to the plate and admit he was wrong back then,” says Stanford Law Professor John J. Donohue III.
In 1980, Donohue wrote what he calls a “very critical” article about Georgia’s death penalty law and of the Georgia Supreme Court, which he describes as having been a “rubber stamp for the death penalty” at the time. The article, “Godfrey v. Georgia: Creative Federalism, the Eighth Amendment, and the Evolving Law of Death,” appeared in the Catholic University Law Review.
He says of Carter, “He was one of the first through the door in getting a new death penalty statute amended that became the model for other states to meet the requirements set by the U.S. Supreme Court for having a constitutional death penalty.”
So Carter’s admission, 40 years later, that he was wrong, resonates strongly with Donohue.
“His expression of regret enables others to realize you can look back, revisit and do better,” he says. And he believes that Carter’s call for abolition will reverberate among an important group of people. “Given his religious background and southern white heritage, he has the ability to change the minds of southern white males and evangelicals,” he says.
Carter turns 91 this year, and recently disclosed that he has liver cancer, which has spread to his brain. He announced the diagnosis at a press conference, at which he displayed the same calm and courage that has defined his public life.
“Of cowards no history is written,” goes an old English proverb. The written history of Jimmy Carter will be long indeed.
Arkansas Attorney General Eager to Start Killing
Posted by Leslie Fulbright on September 2nd, 2015
While many states have stopped executions and public support for capital punishment continues to decline, the southern state of Arkansas plans to move forward after a 10-year break.
Republican Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has asked Governor Asa Hutchinson (former director of the DEA) to set execution dates for eight death row inmates “as quickly as possible.”
The state approved a new lethal injection protocol in August which includes the three drugs midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride.
Officials then purchased the drugs from an unknown source. A state secrecy law allows the Department of Corrections to shield the name of the drug supplier.
The drug midazolam was used in botched executions in Arizona, Ohio and Oklahoma. Despite concerns about whether the drug is constitutional, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge and approved its continued use.
In April, attorney Jeff Rosenzweig filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the drug secrecy law. He says the men should not be executed before it is resolved.
There are currently 34 inmates on death row in Arkansas.
California's Death Penalty Back on Trial
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The Ernest Dewayne Jones v. Ron Davis case will return to court on Aug. 31 when a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the appeal by Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Jones, an inmate on California’s death row, had his sentence vacated last July. US District Judge Cormac Carney ruled the state’s death penalty is unconstitutional, saying unpredictable delays caused by the system amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
“The dysfunctional administration of California’s death penalty system has resulted, and will continue to result, in an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding their actual execution,” Carney wrote. “As for the random few for whom execution does become a reality, they will have languished for so long on death row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary.”
Harris appealed that ruling and argued the process provides necessary protection to defendants.
In March, several organizations including Death Penalty Focus submitted amicus briefs rebutting the attorney general’s argument. Our brief demonstrates that many death row inmates are denied their right to due process by the delays and their families suffer with them. It is estimated that for every death sentence, eight family members are profoundly affected. They deal with guilt, stigma and social isolation that can lead to depression, hopelessness, even suicide. These hidden victims often aren’t able to ever find out if their loved ones are actually innocent.
A brief filed by Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (“MVFR”) and California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (“CCV”) argued that the process complicates grieving, hinders healing and wastes money that could be spent on law enforcement to help solve murders.
A brief by Loyola Law School’s Alarcon Advocacy Center argues that delays caused by the state’s inability to appoint counsel in capital cases are not by design and do not further prompt and fair review. “Congestion, backlogs, and delays in the administration of California’s death penalty have compromised the system to such an extent that the system as a whole has broken down and can no longer satisfy constitutional demands or the “[f]undamental principles of due process and just punishment [which] demand that any punishment, let alone the ultimate one of execution, be timely and rationally carried out,” the brief states.
The current average of 30 years will soon reach 40 and 500 more inmates will die naturally before the courts rule on their cases. Executions have been suspended at San Quentin for nearly a decade while the state with the largest death row continues to sentence people.
Watch a live stream of the oral arguments.
Connecticut Abolishes the Death Penalty and Closes Death Row
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Connecticut’s Supreme Court has ruled that the death penalty violates the state constitution. The ruling, on Thursday, August 13, blocks the state from executing the 11 inmates currently on death row there.
Connecticut enacted a law in 2012 that abolished the death penalty for any crimes committed after the date that the law was passed. But abolition did not apply retroactively, meaning that the 11 prisoners already sentenced to die could still have been executed. The Connecticut Supreme Court has now removed the possibility of execution for current death row inmates by ruling that the death penalty "no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency and no longer serves any legitimate penological purpose.”
"For these reasons, execution of those offenders who committed capital felonies prior to April 25, 2012, would violate the state constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment," Justice Richard Palmer wrote for the majority.
Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy issued a statement Thursday saying those who have been on death row will spend the rest of their lives in state prisons without the possibility of parole.
Attorneys for death row inmates ask the Supreme Court to rehear the case.
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Not long after the Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma’s use of the controversial lethal injection drug midazolam, the state set execution dates for the three plaintiffs in the case.
The June ruling and the scheduled killings could have easily been seen as a setback for the movement to end the death penalty but instead lawyers for the death row inmates responded to a call from Justice Stephen Breyer to order a full briefing on the constitutionality of the death penalty.
In a 40-page dissent to the Glossip v. Gross ruling, Justice Breyer joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited three fundamental defects: serious unreliability, arbitrariness and delays that undermine the penological purpose.
“Rather than try to patch up the death penalty’s legal wounds one at a time,” Breyer wrote, “I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution.”
The three men named in the case, Richard Glossip, John Grant and Benjamin Cole, illustrate many of the concerns cited by Justice Breyer.
Reliability and Innocence: Richard Glossip maintains he is innocent of the crime that landed him on death row. He was 33 with no criminal record when he was charged with the murder of his boss. It is undisputed that a 19-year-old maintenance worker committed the crime. But prosecutors said Glossip paid the teen to do it. The only evidence came from the killer who agreed to testify against Glossip. The entire case hinged on that testimony. Mistakes are possible and that can be proven by the more than 100 people were totally exonerated of the crime they were charged with.
Arbitrariness and Mitigation: John Grant was defended by a lawyer who was new to the bar, self-medicating and married and divorced to her co counsel in Grant’s case. She later resigned after being suspended from practice. She lacked the resources experience and judgment to present the relevant mitigating evidence to support a case for a life sentence, according to the filing. Since then, judges who have reviewed the case have said the inexperienced counsel had an effect on the jury’s decision.
Delay and Dehumanization: Benjamin Cole’s confinement illustrates the dehumanizing effect of a lengthy term of solitary confinement. He has been on death row for over 10 years, underground housing with windowless cells. He has paranoid schizophrenia and his illness has worsened without treatment and been exacerbated by the isolation on death row. Due to his illness, he has never been capable of “meaningful conferring with any of the attorneys who have attempted to represent him,” the suit states.
The court has not ruled on the constitutionality of the death penalty since 1976. We hope they take this opportunity to reconsider. Glossip is scheduled to die on September 16.
Breyer's Powerful Death Penalty Dissent
Posted by Stephen Rohde on July 16th, 2015
This article originally appeared in the
In U.S. Supreme Court history, a few powerful dissenting opinions have eventually won over a majority of the court. In Glossip v. Gross, 2015 DJDAR 7481 (June 29, 2015), Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote a powerful dissenting opinion on the death penalty that presented compelling reasons why capital punishment violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.” Depending on the court’s makeup after the 2016 election, Breyer’s dissent may well become the law of the land.
In 1976, the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty under state statutes that attempted to set forth safeguards to ensure the penalty would be applied reliably and not arbitrarily. But Breyer found that the “circumstances and the evidence of the death penalty’s application have changed radically since then.” The court thought that the constitutional infirmities in the death penalty could be healed. But, according to Breyer, almost “40 years of studies, surveys, and experience strongly indicate … this effort has failed.” “Today’s administration of the death penalty,” Breyer said, “involves three fundamental constitutional defects: (1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose. Perhaps as a result, (4) most places within the United States have abandoned its use.”
Cruel: Unreliability. Breyer found “increasing evidence” that the death penalty lacks reliability. Researchers “have found convincing evidence that, in the past three decades, innocent people have been executed.” Breyer cites the shameful examples of Carlos DeLuna, Cameron Todd Willingham, Joe Arridy and William Jackson Marion. As of 2002, there was evidence of approximately 60 exonerations in capital cases. Since then, the number of exonerations in capital cases has risen to 115 and may be as high as 154. In 2014, six death row inmates were exonerated based on actual innocence. All had been imprisoned for over 30 years.
Including instances in which courts failed to follow legally required procedures, the numbers soar. Between 1973 and 1995, courts found prejudicial errors in an astounding 68 percent of the capital cases. For Breyer, the research suggests “there are too many instances in which courts sentence defendants to death without complying with the necessary procedures; and they suggest that, in a significant number of cases, the death sentence is imposed on a person who did not commit the crime.”
Cruel: Arbitrariness. As Breyer puts it, the “arbitrary imposition of punishment is the antithesis of the rule of law.” In 1976, the Supreme Court acknowledged that it is unconstitutional if “inflicted in an arbitrary and capricious manner.” Despite the court’s hope for fair administration of the death penalty, Breyer concludes it has become “increasingly clear that the death penalty is imposed arbitrarily, i.e., without the ‘reasonable consistency’ legally necessary to reconcile its use with the Constitution’s commands.”
Breyer cites various studies and concludes that “whether one looks at research indicating that irrelevant or improper factors—such as race, gender, local geography, and resources—do significantly determine who receives the death penalty, or whether one looks at research indicating that proper factors—such as ‘egregiousness’—do not determine who receives the death penalty, the legal conclusion must be the same: The research strongly suggests that the death penalty is imposed arbitrarily.” Breyer concludes that the “imposition and implementation of the death penalty seems capricious, random, indeed, arbitrary.”
Cruel: Excessive delays. Breyer found the problems of reliability and unfairness lead to a third independent constitutional problem: excessively long periods of time that individuals typically spend on death row.
In 2014, 35 individuals were executed. Those inmates spent an average of 18 years on death row. At present rates, it would take more than 75 years to carry out the death sentences of the 3,000 inmates on death row; thus, the average person on death row would spend an additional 37.5 years there before being executed.
These lengthy delays create two special constitutional difficulties. First, a lengthy delay in and of itself is especially cruel because it “subjects death row inmates to decades of especially severe, dehumanizing conditions of confinement.” Second, lengthy delay undermines the death penalty’s penological rationale.
Breyer explained that the death penalty’s penological rationale rests almost exclusively upon deterrence and retribution. But Breyer asks: Does it still seem likely that the death penalty has a significant deterrent effect?
He considers what actually happened to the 183 inmates sentenced to death in 1978. As of 2013, 38 (or 21 percent) had been executed; but 132 (or 72 percent) had had their convictions or sentences overturned or commuted; and 7 (or 4 percent) had died of other causes. Six (or 3 percent) remained on death row. Of the 8,466 inmates under a death sentence at some point between 1973 and 2013, 16 percent were executed but 42 percent had their convictions or sentences overturned or commuted, and 6 percent died by other causes; the remainder (35 percent) are still on death row.
To speed up executions, Breyer asks which constitutional protections we should eliminate. He poses the dilemma: “A death penalty system that seeks procedural fairness and reliability brings with it delays that severely aggravate the cruelty of capital punishment and significantly undermine the rationale for imposing a sentence of death in the first place. But a death penalty system that minimizes delays would undermine the legal system’s efforts to secure reliability and procedural fairness.”
Breyer is clear. “We cannot have both. And that simple fact … strongly supports the claim that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment.”
Unusual: Decline in Use. The Eighth Amendment forbids punishments that are cruel and unusual. Breyer points out that between 1986 and 1999, 286 persons on average were sentenced to death each year. But approximately 15 years ago, the numbers began to decline. In 1999, 98 people were executed. Last year, just 73 persons were sentenced to death and 35 were executed.
The number of death penalty states has fallen, too. In 1972, the death penalty was lawful in 41 states. As of today, 19 states and the District of Columbia have abolished the death penalty. In 11 other states where the death penalty is on the books, no execution has taken place in over eight years. Of the 20 states that have conducted at least one execution in the past eight years, 9 have conducted fewer than five in that time, making an execution in those states a fairly rare event.
That leaves 11 states in which it is fair to say that capital punishment is not “unusual.” And just three (Texas, Missouri and Florida) accounted for 80 percent of executions nationwide (28 of the 35) in 2014. Indeed, last year, only seven states conducted an execution. In other words, in 43 States, no one was executed. If we ask how many Americans live in a state that at least occasionally carries out an execution (at least one within the prior three years), the answer two decades ago was 60 to 70 percent. Today, it’s 33 percent.
Breyer concludes that the matters he has discussed, “such as lack of reliability, the arbitrary application of a serious and irreversible punishment, individual suffering caused by long delays, and lack of penological purpose are quintessentially judicial matters. They concern the infliction — indeed the unfair, cruel and unusual infliction — of a serious punishment upon an individual.”
Consequently, the Supreme Court is “left with a judicial responsibility” and it has made clear that “the Constitution contemplates that in the end our own judgment will be brought to bear on the question of the acceptability of the death penalty under the Eighth Amendment.”
Breyer’s authoritative dissent may have set the stage for ending state killing once and for all. And it may have its most immediate impact on Aug. 31, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hears oral argument in Jones v Chappell, in which last year U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney found California’s death penalty unconstitutional for many of the very same reasons Breyer has so cogently expressed.
Stephen Rohde, an author and constitutional lawyer, is immediate past chair of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, vice president of Death Penalty Focus, and national chair of Bend the Arc, a Jewish Partnership for Justice.
Guest Column by Robyn Barbour
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At 8:00 when the late bell rings, my class of sixteen numbers a mere nine students. I take roll on my phone, and my students write their journal responses based on a prompt on the board. The students are a mix of white, Latino and black. Almost all are freshmen because this is a freshman English class, but I expect a junior who is redoing ninth-grade English to appear shortly – and he does. He tends to be fashionably late. As soon as they have finished their journal, the girls start shouting at each other across the room. They aren’t angry; they’re animated. They talk about girl drama and boy drama. They use terms that were unfamiliar to me – left hand, right hand, backbone, BAE -- but they took the time to teach me their language and now I understand. They like that I put in the effort.
Seven minutes into class, two more girls come in carrying Starbucks. One asks me to put her Frappucino in my minifridge, which I do. I’ve already erased the journal prompt, and we’ve started working on a grammar assignment. They each get a sheet from me and they fall into the familiar pattern of going over the instructions, doing a few examples, and then working together or as a group on the rest of the sheet. This day the lesson is on apostrophes. Some of them didn’t know what the comma-looking things were called, and most of them thought they were used to make words plural.
Five minutes later, two boys come in. They also pick up the grammar from me, and sit next to the girls who usually do their work and who usually pay attention to my instructions. Halfway through the class, we’re still missing two kids, and they’re almost never there before the last ten minutes. These are not bad kids. They’re not lazy or stupid or dangerous. Their parents work or are overwhelmed by the ravages of not working – poverty, homelessness, drug use to dull the shame. These kids have to parent themselves, and I know there are mornings when I myself have a hard time not hitting snooze until it gives up.
When I first started working at this school and heard the stories my kids told or wrote about - mental health issues, undiagnosed learning disabilities, illiteracy into high school, incarcerated parents and/or siblings, abuse, foster care – it gave me a strange sense of déjà vu. This is exactly what I kept hearing when learning about death-row inmates. You see, in my spare time I am on the board of Death Penalty Focus and many of my fellow board members work with people incarcerated at San Quentin. Given the stories, many of the men and women imprisoned at San Quentin face some of the same issues as my students.
Even though I teach sixth through ninth graders, roughly ages 12 through 15, some of my kids have already entered the system. One of my girls has a probation officer because she was with a friend who started a fire in a bathroom. “Arson” is emblazoned on her juvenile record because she was caught on camera leaving the bathroom. Having already gained a reputation as being a wild child, it was easy for people to believe that she would light a fire in a trash can. She said she didn’t do it and I believed her. That surprised her. And it made her really happy.
I started teaching at this school two years ago. It isn’t easy, but I loved it from the first day. All the influences that contribute to people going down the path to prison are writ large in these lives and they make my kids challenging to teach. But experience tells me that given structure and love and patience they can be as successful as anyone at a more affluent school. I know this because for ten of my twenty-five years in the classroom, I taught at those affluent schools.
Any demographic analysis of prisons, death row in particular, will show you disproportionate numbers of people of color, people who didn’t finish high school, people with mental health issues, people who are functionally illiterate. They’ll be people who were abused, who were abandoned, who somehow slipped through the cracks and were left with few alternatives to lives of crime and violence. These are my kids, and every one of my colleagues fights like hell to divert them from the destiny their life to this point seems to funnel them toward. We see ourselves as the pipeline to college rather than prison, to better lives rather than continuing the cycle their parents have become trapped in. Every member of the staff at this school has many jobs beyond the one he or she is paid to do, because we don’t give up on our kids as they expect us to do, as so many have done.
So my kids show up late. That they show up is what counts. So they sometimes opt not to come to English at eight in the morning. They show up eventually, and they ask for make-up work. Sometimes they come in at lunch, sometimes after school. And they do these things not because they believe in themselves – yet – but because they begin to get the idea that someone cares about them and wants them to have a shot at a life.
Education is expensive, but more money for counselors, for training, for diversion programs and for “mental health” days might obviate the need for as many prison cells. Every one of the kids I work with could end up in “the system,” but once they see there are other possibilities out there, they get that it’s not inevitable.
As for those who have already been through that pipeline, those for whom no one intervened, those who will live behind bars until the state puts an end to the hope they once represented, we can only ask why something wasn’t done to provide other options.
But the future is not set for my kids.
Posted by on July 10th, 2015
We are greatly saddened to learn of the passing of Myron Dale “Doc” Miller on June 6th in Davis, California. Mr. Miller was a staunch opponent of the death penalty, and generously supported our work over many years.
Doc pursued a life of service, volunteering for the Army Air Corps as a recent high school graduate in the middle of World War II. He became a pilot, rising to the rank of Colonel, and flew for 30 years in war and peace time. During the Vietnam engagement, he commanded a rescue squadron with four airplanes and 12 pararescue men who parachuted into the sea and combat zones on rescue missions. He also flew around the world several times, piloting jet transports and stopping at airports that served US Embassies in India, Pakistan, Saudia Arabia, Spain and other countries.
After retiring from the Air Force, Doc completed his undergraduate and law degrees at UC Davis and began a 20 year legal career devoted to representing indigents in criminal appeals. His many contributions to improving the world around him will be long remembered. Doc was loved and admired by his many friends, colleagues and family, and by those of who were encouraged and inspired by his generosity.
We send our deepest sympathy to Doc’s daughter, Vicky Sargent and grandsons Austin Sargent and Alden Sargent, and to his longtime companion and best friend, Sarah Taylor.
A memorial service for Doc will be held on Saturday, July 18, 2015, at 10 a.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis, 27074 Patwin Road, Davis. In lieu of flowers, Doc’s family asks that donations be made to Death Penalty Focus, c/o Mike Farrell, 5 Third St., Suite 725, San Francisco, CA 94103.
Posted by on July 2nd, 2015
We are greatly saddened to learn that Pamela Krasney, a former DPF board member and long-time activist against the death penalty, passed away on June 9th at her home in Sausalito.
Pam was a lifelong opponent of the death penalty and made many valuable contributions to DPF and the anti death penalty movement. She was particularly dedicated to San Quentin Death Row inmate Jarvis Masters, whom she visited regularly over the past eighteen years.
As a Tibetan Buddhist and member of the Shambhala Community, she embraced many causes and tirelessly pursued projects to improve the world around her, especially for those unfairly treated by the criminal justice system. Pam was active in Human Rights Watch and served on the board of the Prison Mindfulness Institute. We are forever grateful for her dedication.
We send our deepest sympathies to Pam’s husband, Marty Krasney, and to her children and grandchildren.
Abolitionist of the Month Ernie Chambers
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Ernie Chambers does not give up.
Nearly 45 years ago, right after he won a seat in the Nebraska State Senate, he first introduced a bill to repeal the death penalty. He didn’t hesitate to take on the formidable task of abolishing an almost 150-year-old law in a conservative state in the heart of the country.
“I have an obligation. I have a charge to keep. I don’t get tired. I won’t sell out. I won’t be bought out,” Chambers said during a recent phone interview.
For the next 40 years, Chambers introduced a similar bill to repeal Nebraska's capital punishment law at the start of each legislative session, a total of 38 times. In 1979, the bill was passed by the Legislature but was vetoed by then-Governor Charles Thone. Undeterred, Chambers introduced it at the next session, and the next, and the next....
Ask Chambers what propelled him to try, again and again, to repeal the death penalty and he explains it was a determination forged by a lifelong belief that killing another human being, no matter what the circumstances, is just plain wrong.
“Since I was first conscious of the difference between right and wrong, I have been opposed to the death penalty. My argument is simple: Nobody should kill anybody. And killing someone as punishment is the most barbaric act of all,” he says.
Chambers, who was born in 1937, has been fighting injustice his entire life. An Omaha native, he was often the only black child in a white classroom. He tells of having to listen to his white teacher read Little Black Sambo,a children’s book with descriptions and illustrations of African-Americans so derogatory, it was banned from libraries and schools in the 1970s. He sat in silence while the white kids laughed. It was an experience, he says, that “bothers me to this day.”
Chambers earned his undergraduate degree at Creighton University in Omaha in 1959, and a law degree from Creighton University School of Law in 1979, but because he refuses to join the Nebraska State Bar Association, he has never practiced law.
“I refused to join the Bar because I paid my way through law school,” he says. “Why should I have to pay the Nebraska State Bar Association dues for the right to practice law when I already earned that right by graduating from law school?”
He was fired from the Omaha Post Office in the early 1960s for insubordination after complaining that managers referred to black employees as “boys.” When the Postmaster General gave a speech in Omaha, Chambers picketed it with a sign that read, “I spoke against discrimination in the Omaha Post Office and was fired.”
He became a public figure in 1966 after race riots broke out in Omaha. Acting as a spokesperson for the community, Chambers helped defuse the tension, and subsequently led a citizens’ group that worked to improve relations between residents of North Omaha and the police.
He was working as a barber in the 1960s when he first ran for public office, once for the Omaha School Board and once for the City Council. He lost both times.
In 1970, he was elected to represent North Omaha's 11th District, and was reelected for the next 34 years, becoming in 2005, Nebraska’s longest-serving state senator. Term limits passed by Nebraska voters in 2000 meant he couldn’t run again for four years, which he did in 2012, winning by a landslide.
Chambers has also unsuccessfully run for the U.S. Senate and for governor of Nebraska.
Asked if he still has aspirations for higher office, Chambers is definite. “No, no, no. I’m where I belong.”
And where he belongs is in Nebraska, fighting for the causes he believes in.
“I’ve always felt an obligation to protect those on the outside, the ones who are weak or frightened,” he says. And it was that sense of obligation that fueled his successful drive to halt the execution of juveniles and the intellectually disabled in Nebraska in 1982, ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court's nationwide ban.
“Every time I saw an opening, I took it,” he says.
In late May, Chambers finally prevailed. First, by a vote of 32 to 15, the unicameral Nebraska Legislature voted to repeal the death penalty, replacing it with the option of a life sentence without parole. Republican Governor Pete Ricketts vetoed the bill, and less than a week later, the legislature overrode his veto by a vote of 30 to 19, the minimum number needed. With that vote, Nebraska became the first conservative state in more than 40 years to abolish the death penalty. The 10 men on Nebraska’s Death Row were granted a reprieve, and will serve life sentences without parole.
But the battle may not be over. In the wake of the override, Republican Senator Beau McCoy of Omaha announced he would organize an effort to get an initiative on the state ballot next year giving Nebraska voters the option of reinstating the death penalty.
Ernie Chambers is ready.
“I don’t feel the battle is won,” he says. “None of that worries me. I’ve always had the expectation that the battle will go on.”
Supreme Court Ruling Sets Clock Ticking
Posted by Leslie Fulbright on June 29th, 2015
The Supreme Court ruled today in a 5-4 decision that the drug midazolam is constitutional for use as the first drug in a three-drug lethal injection formula. The decision is troubling after a botched execution in Oklahoma clearly showed the experimental drug creates an intolerable risk of harm.
In addition, it is dreadful news for California, the state with the nation’s largest death row. Earlier this month in a settlement agreement with death penalty advocates, Governor Jerry Brown agreed to unveil a one-drug protocol within 120 days of the decision, meaning killing in California could resume within months.
In California, the death penalty has been on hold since 2006 when a federal judge found the three-drug protocol was unconstitutional. When a new protocol is introduced, there are bound to be legal challenges and additional costs to California taxpayers in addition to the millions we already spend on appeals and housing.
When the process is approved, a minimum of 17 people who have exhausted their appeals will immediately be eligible for execution. Instead of wasting more time and money to try to come up with a new way to kill prisoners, we need to end the death penalty system.
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