The Death Penalty Blog

25th Annual DPF Awards Dinner pays tribute to exonerees; honors
Sir Richard Branson, Dolores Huerta and Jackson Browne

Posted by on May 12th, 2016

Richard Branson speaking at the 25th Annual Death Penalty Focus Awards Dinner - death penalty, california, repeal the death penalty, end the death penalty, abolish the death penalty, justice that works

“Enough of a flawed system that disproportionately targets minorities; that cannot prevent the killing of innocents; that doesn’t have any impact on crime rates, that is a colossal waste of taxpayer money, and most of all a system that delivers neither justice nor closure,” said Sir Richard Branson, in a speech at the Death Penalty Focus 25th Annual Awards Dinner last week.

DPF awarded Sir Richard its Abolition Award for his lifelong opposition to the death penalty, and his commitment to the efforts to abolish it in the United States. In his acceptance speech, he endorsed the Justice That Works Act of 2016, which repeals the death penalty in California and replaces it with a sentence of life without parole, and has qualified for the November ballot. The initiative is sponsored by Taxpayers for Sentencing Reform, and is spearheaded by our president Mike Farrell, who is on leave from DPF to work on the campaign.

“Ending the death penalty in California will be a signal no one can ignore,” Sir Richard said when he accepted his award. “It means that the people of America’s most populous state have had enough.”

Dolores Huerta speaking at the 25th Annual Death Penalty Focus Awards Dinner - death penalty, california, repeal the death penalty, end the death penalty, abolish the death penalty, justice that works

Dolores Huerta, who received the DPF Humanitarian Award, and Jackson Browne, who was presented with the DPF Justice in the Arts and Media Award, both spoke of their commitment to seeing the death penalty abolished not just in California in November, but in the rest of the United States as well.

Joan Baez speaking at the 25th Annual Death Penalty Focus Awards Dinner - death penalty, california, repeal the death penalty, end the death penalty, abolish the death penalty, justice that works

And Joan Baez, before presenting Jackson Browne with his award, thrilled the hundreds of DPF supporters in the room by singing, a cappella, a verse of the spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

Death Penalty Exonerees at the 25th Annual Death Penalty Focus Awards Dinner - death penalty, california, repeal the death penalty, end the death penalty, abolish the death penalty, justice that works, wtiness to innocence

DPF was proud to welcome almost 20 exonerees. Ten of them had been sentenced to die before being found innocent and released from death row. The others had been sentenced to life before proving their innocence. Between them they served 399 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

The evening, DPF’s biggest fundraising event of the year, was held at the historic Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, and drew almost 350 guests, all committed to one goal: abolishing the death penalty in the United States.

We have plenty of photos posted on our Facebook page. Click on the album below to see more pictures from the event and behind the scenes.


Dr. King Opposed Capital Punishment

Posted by Death Penalty Focus on January 8th, 2016

As we celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., let’s recognize his denunciation of capital punishment.

Share this picture by clicking here and show your support for an end to the death penalty.

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The Arbitrary Execution of Tom Thompson

Posted by Andy Love on

Thomas Thompson was sentenced to death based on jailhouse snitch testimony and bogus evidence introduced by a corrupt prosecutor

I knew if I wanted to see Tom one last time I had to leave for the prison soon. It was already late in the afternoon and at 6:00 pm, he would be taken from the visiting area to the death watch cell for his last meal. There he would remain until 25 minutes before midnight when he would be led to the execution chamber next door. There wasn’t anything left for me to do anyway, so I left my San Francisco office and drove over the Golden Gate Bridge to San Quentin State Prison.

The parking lot to the East Gate of the prison is just a few yards from the San Francisco Bay. Even after countless visits the contrast between the sweeping vista of the coastline and the grim reality inside the prison’s peach colored concrete walls is striking. I passed through security and walked slowly down the long path leading to the Main Visiting Room. I was let in through the two sets of heavy doors, and saw Tom, surrounded by family and close friends, presiding over a gathering that could only be described as surreal. Tom had been on death row for fourteen years, and the prison guards who knew him well seemed as traumatized as everyone else. They were overly solicitous, awkward, almost apologetic. Instead of the usual vending machine fare there was a platter of cold cuts for sandwiches and sodas on a long table. Although in a matter of hours he was going to be strapped to a gurney and lethally injected with poison, it was Tom who was trying to keep things light, with the corny jokes and over-the-top impersonations – Steve Martin as the “Wild and Crazy Guy” and Mike Myers as Austin Powers – with which I had become all too familiar.

Behind his silliness, Tom was thoroughly depleted from being the center of a spectacle that surrounded him as the fifth man about to be executed in California since the death penalty was re-instituted in 1977. A physically healthy 43 year old was going through the process of dying, and it was disorienting and  unbearably stressful. He had been enduring emotionally-charged visits from his friends and loved ones, for whom he felt the need to constantly perform. He met often with me and other members of the legal team to approve a list of execution witnesses (he was entitled to five) and to be kept abreast of last minute developments – of which there were few. He had been under 24 hour surveillance from guards for the past five days, making sleep impossible. In accordance with prison rules, he had been stripped of his “non-legal property.” He had no reading or writing material. He was denied his art supplies, which he had used for surprisingly impressive paintings over the years, including a portrait of Billy Idol he had given me a few months earlier.

We had been preparing for this moment for far too long, having gone through a similar process one year earlier when, despite a stay of execution, prison personnel proceeded methodically with its execution protocol until, with six hours to spare, they were finally assured that the Supreme Court would not disturb the stay. There was not much left to say. Tom, although hampered by waist chains, enveloped me as best he could in a big bear hug, and thanked me for all I had done. He told me that I should feel proud about putting up such a good and righteous fight. I replied that it had been an honor to have worked with him. I exchanged tearful goodbyes with his sister and mother. I walked out of the prison and returned to my office where I continued to file court papers with little chance of success and railed to reporters about injustice. All to no avail. Six minutes after midnight on July 14, 1998, Tom Thompson was dead.

*          *          *          *

Tom Thompson had no criminal record or history of violence when he was tried for the murder of Ginger Fleischli in 1984.  He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death based largely on the false testimony of jailhouse snitches and the failure of his trial lawyer to challenge the bogus evidence of rape invented by the prosecutor.  (The rape special-circumstance provided the basis for the death penalty.)

An explosive scandal involving the Orange County D.A.'s office has only recently shed light on the extent of the unethical behavior routinely engaged in by its prosecutors to secure death sentences.  And Michael Jacobs -- the prosecutor in Tom's case -- has been revealed to be one of the more notorious.  Jacobs was fired in 2001 for insubordination and dishonesty.  The litany of his misconduct over several cases includes presenting false testimony, using unreliable informants, and hiding exculpatory evidence -- all of which he did in Tom's case.  And there was more.  Jacobs used contradictory evidence and arguments in two separate trials to convict first Tom and then Tom's roommate, David Leitch -- the victim's former boyfriend and a man with a violent past -- on inconsistent theories.  The reliability of many other Orange County cases has been called into question since the D.A. scandal broke -- and one murder conviction based on the false testimony of one of the very same snitches who testified against Tom has been reversed.  Of course, this all comes too late for Tom.

There are approximately 750 men and women on death row in California.  Tom Thompson is one of 13 who have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated almost 40 years ago.  While others sentenced to death around the same time languished on death row (several of whom continue to languish), his case jumped to the head of the class for no discernible reason.  And then a series of safeguards designed to ensure that the death penalty is fairly and reliably imposed -- state and federal appellate review and clemency -- completely and utterly failed. 

All death sentences in California are automatically reviewed by the California Supreme Court.  Tom's appeal was heard in 1988, two years after three liberal justices were recalled by the voters and replaced by an ultra-conservative governor with ultra-conservative justices.  The Court was thereby transformed almost overnight from one that was appropriately open to reversing cases based on meritorious claims to one that essentially rubber-stamped death penalty cases by finding virtually every error alleged in virtually every case to be harmless.  Accordingly, Tom's conviction and sentence were affirmed.

The case then moved to federal court, where in 1995, Tom's death sentence and rape-related charges were reversed based on a finding of ineffective assistance of trial counsel for counsel's inexcusable failure to adequately rebut the snitch testimony and other evidence that purported to establish rape.  The state appealed this decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 

It is not much of an exaggeration to say that the composition of the randomly drawn three-judge panel in the federal appellate courts is the most important factor in determining the life and death of a condemned inmate.  If at least two of the judges on the panel are essentially liberal, the death penalty will likely be reversed; if they are conservative it usually will be upheld. It is simply luck of the draw and, unfortunately, Tom got a very, very bad draw.  Despite what at the time was a majority of liberal judges on the Ninth Circuit, all three judges on Tom’s panel were extremely conservative Reagan appointees.  It was therefore not surprising -- but wholly arbitrary -- when the panel reversed the district court's ruling in 1996.

To mitigate such arbitrariness is another important safeguard -- en banc review, in which an 11-judge Ninth Circuit panel has the option to review a 3-judge panel's ruling.  Court papers were filed requesting rehearing en banc, which can only be granted after one of the active judges who sits on the Ninth Circuit calls for a vote and a majority of those judges then vote in favor of rehearing. Given the number of liberal judges on the Ninth Circuit at that time it would be unusual for there not to at least be one judge calling for a vote in a death penalty case.  However, on March 6, 1997, an order issued stating that the request for en banc review was denied because not one judge asked for a vote to rehear the case. After the U.S. Supreme Court denied review, an execution date was set for August 5, 1997. 

In the months that followed, evidence surfaced that corroborated Tom's long-standing version of events -- that he and the victim had consensual sex on the night of her death.  This included a statement from Tom's roommate, David Leitch, that was never turned over to the defense.  Such evidence completely undermined the prosecutor's rape-murder theory and called into question the credibility and integrity of the prosecutor's entire case.   Unfortunately, presenting this new evidence was severely hampered by a federal law that had just been enacted in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing.  The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") was designed to thwart "frivolous appeals" but it cast far too wide a net and created virtually insurmountable hurdles to presenting new claims in federal court.  Another problem was that the federal judge who had originally granted relief had passed away and the case was assigned to a far more conservative judge who was completely unreceptive to this new evidence and rejected the claim. 

Another purported safeguard is clemency, a process in which the governor is empowered to act when the judicial system breaks down.  No California governor since Ronald Reagan, however, has seen fit to grant clemency in a capital case, and in Tom's case, Governor Pete Wilson proved no exception. Despite powerful and emotional pleas from family and loved ones, the lack of any prior criminal history, testimonials from prison guards about Tom's exemplary conduct at San Quentin, and serious doubts raised regarding the fairness of the trial and the subsequent judicial proceedings, Wilson denied clemency.  He ultimately based his decision on nothing more than a determination that Tom could not prove his innocence ("But at the end of it all, I am absolutely confident that he raped and murdered Ginger Fleischli").

On August 3, 1997, one night before Tom's execution was scheduled to take place, an 11-judge en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit issued a dramatic order.  The court explained that it was taking the highly unusual step of ruling after its earlier denial of review because of “exceptional circumstances” caused by a malfunction in the court’s review process -- a glitch in the court's communication system that resulted in the failure of any judge voting to review the case en banc the first time -- and because “we are convinced that the panel committed fundamental errors of law that would result in a manifest injustice.” The Ninth Circuit then vacated the three-judge panel opinion, and reversed the death sentence, holding that trial counsel's ineffectiveness was prejudicial and that the prosecutor’s use of fundamentally inconsistent theories at Tom and David’s separate trials was fundamentally unfair.

The state sought review in the U.S. Supreme Court, while the prison proceeded with its execution protocol.  With six hours to spare, the Supreme Court refused the state's invitation to summarily reverse the Ninth Circuit and allow the execution to go forward.  But it did agree to hear the state's appeal on December 9, 1997. 

The grand stairway of 53 steps, the massive Corinthian marble columns, the grandeur of the Great Hall, and all the pomp and circumstance attending the Supreme Court are surely designed to give lawyers a sense of awe and wonder as they go through the red-curtained entrance into the courtroom and sit just a few short feet from the nine justices.  One comes completely down to earth, however, as it becomes clear that at least a majority of those justices intend to make sure one’s client is executed. This seemed like a foregone conclusion in Tom’s case. When the high court decides to intervene in a Ninth Circuit case that has reversed a death sentence it is usually not to approve its ruling.  And thus, another safeguard proved ephemeral.  On April 29, 1998, by a bare 5-to-4 majority, the Court reversed the Ninth Circuit and ordered it to reinstate Tom's death sentence. Justice Kennedy (a former Ninth Circuit judge, himself) wrote the majority opinion, finding a “grave abuse of discretion” in the Ninth Circuit’s handling of  the case, and stressed the importance of “finality” of state judgments. Thus, even though Tom was not at fault, the Court rejected Tom’s claims on the technicality that the Ninth Circuit had waited too long to grant en banc review.  The Court never even addressed the validity of Tom’s substantive claims.  A new execution date was set for July 14, 1998.

The last hope was the separate appeal of the federal judge's rejection of the newly discovered evidence of innocence.  The case was heard by the same en banc panel that had granted relief earlier, but the court was no longer receptive.  It seemed chastened by the lashing it had received by the Supreme Court and shackled by the barriers to relief imposed by AEDPA.  At 11:00 p.m., on July 11, 1998, the court denied relief. Tom was executed two nights later.


*          *          *          *

Tom Thompson was represented by a trial lawyer who failed to take the steps required to afford minimally competent representation in a capital case. He was convicted and sentenced to death in a county where a cynical prosecutor could pick and choose among jail inmates who were willing and able to manufacture evidence to support the prosecution’s theory of the case. His death sentence was affirmed by a state court that at the time refused to meaningfully review death penalty cases. Relief in federal court was first denied because he unluckily drew a conservative panel and later because of legal technicalities that had nothing to do with the merits of his claims. Despite obtaining new evidence that suggested he was innocent, Tom was precluded from obtaining a new trial because of insurmountable legal procedures and the paramount importance of closure. 

Almost twenty years later, poor defense lawyers, unsavory prosecutors, disinterested courts and impenetrable procedural hurdles remain all too common elements in capital cases.  They are inherent aspects of an irreparably broken system.  Apart from the barbarity of the death penalty, the absence of meaningful safeguards to ensure that death sentences are not unreliably and arbitrarily imposed and carried out should be deeply disturbing to anyone who cares about fairness and justice. 


Andy Love is a partner at Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd.  He previously represented California death row inmates for 25 years.  He blogs at Fair and Unbalanced Blog where this piece was originally posted. Andy is on the Board of Directors of Taxpayers for Sentencing Reform, the organization sponsoring the  effort to put a voter initiative on the 2016 ballot that would replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.  To find out more, to volunteer and/or to donate click on:  Justice That Works.
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“Ethnic Adjustment” and the death penalty

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It’s called ethnic adjustment. “This practice is a symptom of a dysfunctional death penalty system where prosecutors seek to ‘win’ by executing the mentally disabled and people of color at all costs,” says Robert M. Sanger, a senior partner at the Santa Barbara law firm, Sanger Swysen & Dunkle. “Borrowing from Justice Blackmun, this is a part of the machinery of death. It is a disturbing part. And it is all the more reason to end the death penalty.”

Sanger explains that statistically, some minorities tend to perform worse on tests than Caucasians, so “prosecutors argue that this discrepancy is not based on intellectual inferiority, but rather that there are testing biases and behavioral factors that cause minority test-takers to underperform.

"Thus . . . minority IQ scores should be increased to control for these biases and behavioral factors.”

In a 2013 case (Hernandez v. Stephens), the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a state court can find a defendant is not intellectually disabled if his IQ score if brought up to the bottom of the non-disabled range after being “scaled to Mexican norms.” Ramiro Hernandez, convicted of killing his employer in Texas, had IQ test scores in the 50s and low 60s, one of which was ethnically adjusted to a 70. The U.S. Supreme Court denied his appeal in April 2014, and he was executed two weeks later.

In a recently published paper, “IQ, Intelligence Testing, ‘Ethnic Adjustments’ and Atkins” (http://works.bepress.com/robert_sanger/32), Sanger explores how prosecution expert witnesses are testifying to “ethnic adjustment” in death penalty cases to artificially raise minority defendants’ IQ scores. These witnesses add five to 15 points to the IQ score of people of color, disqualifying them from protection by the Atkins v. Virginia and Hall v. Florida decisions prohibiting the execution of the intellectually disabled, and qualifying them for death.

This testimony is being presented all over the country, says Sanger, “and remarkably, is still left unresolved by the courts, including the California and United States Supreme Courts.”


A Message from Mike Farrell

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Dear Friends,

I want you to know that I have taken a leave of absence as President of DPF in order to investigate the possibility of an initiative campaign to end the use of state killing in California next year. To that end, last month I filed a proposed ballot initiative entitled The Justice That Works Act of 2016. This is a very exciting prospect, but it will take a lot of work before it’s clear we can launch a full-dress campaign. Happily, I received heartfelt endorsement and support from across the country in response to the filing, including some generous financial commitments.

Though I am the official Proponent of this measure, a great many dedicated people who have been working toward abolition for decades are with me. Led by Death Penalty Focus, we are organizing a great team: Professionals and volunteers, consultants and pollsters, attorneys, death penalty scholars, religious leaders, people from across the political spectrum, and scores of dedicated abolitionists.

I believe the time is right to bring the matter back to the voters. As abolitionists we have to continue the fight to end the death penalty. The number of lives at stake on California’s death row compels it. Pope Francis’ recent condemnation of the death penalty is sure to rededicate Catholics and all people of faith to end state killing throughout the country and it’s up to us to build on the growing momentum to do so.

We’ve done a sober and realistic assessment of the likelihood of success in 2016, including polling voters and analyzing the challenge of raising the necessary financial support. We’ve developed a strategy that involves key political leaders, law enforcement, faith-based and victims’ groups, and exonerees. If we build a strong base of support and continue to poll well, elected officials may even be persuaded to support repeal.

If we continue to raise the funding needed to mount a strong campaign, we can abolish state killing in California. We feel the enormous presence of the 749 men and women on California's death row and must do all we can to spare them and anyone who may yet be sentenced to death. If abolition is ever to come about it will be through a collective and multi-faceted attack on capital punishment—from the courtroom to the classroom, from legislation to public education, from the soap box to the ballot box—and there is a role for all to play.

I am deeply grateful to be part of this movement and I thank each of you for all you have done and will continue to do to end state killing. You have our support and, going forward, we very much appreciate yours.

Mike
Mike Farrell, Proponent
The Justice that Works Act of 2016

Human Rights Group Issues Report on Kevin Cooper case

Posted by Leslie Fulbright on October 19th, 2015


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has issued a report on the case of Kevin Cooper, a man who has been locked up on San Quentin’s Death Row since 1985.

A petition was filed in 2011 by Cooper’s attorneys Norman Hile and Katie DeWitt arguing that Cooper was sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit. It outlined the mishandling of the crime scene, the false evidence presented by the district attorney, and the fact that the sheriff’s department failed to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense. It also argued there was planted and mishandled evidence and that he was represented by ineffective counsel and faced racial discrimination.

The commission examined the contentions and found that the United States is responsible for violating Cooper's right to equality before the law, the right to a fair trial, and the right to due process of the law.

“Should the state carry out the execution of Mr. Cooper, it would be committing a serious and irreparable violation of the basic right to life recognized in Article 1 of the American Declaration,” the report states.

Further, the commission recommended that the United States review Kevin Cooper’s trial and sentence in accordance with the guarantees of due process and a fair trial.

The commission also recommended the United States adopt a moratorium on all executions.

The IACHR was created in 1959 to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere. It is composed of seven members who review individual petitions and monitor human rights in member states.

You can find more information on the Kevin Cooper case here.



Lethal Injection News Across the Nation

Posted by Leslie Fulbright on October 18th, 2015


MONTANA – A judge ruled earlier this month that the lethal injection drug protocol did not comply with state law and ordered an indefinite halt to all executions. District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock of Helena said the state’s current method is not an “ultra-fast-acting barbiturate,” as required and the statute must be modified. The lawsuit was brought by Montana’s two death-row inmates, Ronald Smith and William Gollehon.

OKLAHOMA – An autopsy for Charles Warner, who was executed in Oklahoma in January, shows the state used the wrong drug in the killing. Officials claim they didn’t discover the mistake until they were going to execute Richard Glossip. He was spared in the final minutes. It’s the latest controversy in the state that had all executions put on hold for nine months after the botched execution of Clatyon Lockett. "We cannot trust Oklahoma to get it right or to tell the truth. The State’s disclosure that it used potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride during the execution of Charles Warner yet again raises serious questions about the ability of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to carry out executions,” said Dale Baich, an attorney in Glossip v. Gross.

ARKANSAS -- After a move to restart its death penalty process and setting the date for eight executions, the Arkansas Department of Corrections has been ordered to identify the manufacturer, seller and distributor of its lethal injection drugs. Circuit Judge Wendell Griffin stayed the executions and gave the DOC until Oct. 21 to identify or object. Lawyers for the inmates argue the law that shields the state from revealing drug manufacturers and sellers is unconstitutional. Arkansas hasn’t killed an inmate since 2005.

MISSOURI – Four days before his scheduled execution, the governor of Missouri commuted the death sentence of Kimber Edwards to life without parole. Prosecutors called for death in an alleged murder for hire killing of his ex wife. But the actual killer recanted his story and said he acted alone. Edwards has a form of autism that makes him vulnerable to falsely confessing when subjected to coercive police tactics.

VIRGINA – On Oct. 1, Alfredo Prieto was killed by the state of Virginia before the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on whether to grant a stay in his drug challenge. His attorney, Robert Lee, said the justices were still considering the challenge to Virginia’s lethal injection protocol when the Department of Corrections went ahead with the execution.

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Death Penalty Cases at the Supreme Court

Posted by Leslie Fulbright on October 13th, 2015


It’s a busy term for the death penalty at the United States Supreme Court. A total of six cases will be considered by the justices over the next two months. They primarily involve procedural questions and none appear to have the ability to abolish capital punishment entirely, a subject the justices were divided on last term.

Two cases out of Kansas were heard October 7. One dealt with sentencing requirements and jury instructions in consolidated cases. The Kansas Supreme Court overturned the death sentences of two brothers tried together saying the Eighth Amendment requires individual consideration of a defendant at capital sentencing hearings and that the court violated the requirement when it allowed a joint penalty proceeding.

The justices that day also reviewed a technical question about whether jury instructions for the penalty phase of a capital trial was consistent with the ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Lawyers for three inmates argued the jury instructions were ambiguous and the jurors were not allowed to properly consider mitigating factors that might have justified a sentence of life without parole.

The justices heard a Florida case on October 13 that will could decide whether judges can sentence someone to death without a unanimous determination by the jury. That state has one of the nation’s highest rates of death sentences and executions. But attorneys for inmates argue the way it sentences criminals is unconstitutional.

In most states, a 12-member jury must agree on all the aggravating factors that can lead to a death sentence. There are two states where only 10 of 12 must agree. But in Florida, only a simple majority is needed. In the case of Timothy Hurst, a judge sentenced him to death after jurors voted 7-5. His lawyer argues the system violates both the Sixth and Eighth Amendments.

In another case out of Louisiana, justices were asked to decide whether a 2012 decision barring mandatory sentences of life without parole for juvenile killers is retroactive. Henry Montgomery was 17 when he committed a crime is 69 now and seeking parole. He is one of 2,000 people serving sentences of life without parole for murders committed before the age of 18. Many of them automatically received the sentence.

In November, the justices will consider whether prosecutors in Georgia violated the rule against racial selection of juries by striking all four black prospective jurors in the case of Timothy Foster. Later in the term, the court will consider the case of Terrance Williams, a death row inmate who says an elected state judge who upheld his murder conviction should have recused himself from hearing a capital conviction appeal because of his prior role as a prosecutor in the case.

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World Day Against the Death Penalty

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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 was "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.


#KeepHopeAlive and #IStandForMercy were used in solidarity with the Bali 9 before they were executed by the Indonesian government earlier this year 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, visit the World Coalition's World Day 2015 page.

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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.

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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.

October 21
Bruce Earl Ward
Don William Davis

November 3
Terrick Terrell Nooner
Stacey Eugene Johnson

December 14
Marcel Wayne Williams
Jack Harold Jones

January 14
Jason McGehee
Kenneth Williams

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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.

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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.

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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.


#KeepHopeAlive and #IStandForMercy were used in solidarity with the Bali 9 before they were executed by the Indonesian government earlier this year 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 david@deathpenalty.org.

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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.

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The Poetry of Wiley Bridgeman

Posted by Leslie Fulbright on September 9th, 2015


Fancy Colors

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

My woman is
Strong!
sensuous fibers of
untouched silks,
Laughing out loud.
Strong?
She hides her
insecurities
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. . . . .
A lover!
"Corn-Fed".



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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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