Friday, June 30, 2006

Day Two update from the Fast & Vigil

As noted previously, many people from the Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing are participating in the four-day Fast & Vigil Against the Death Penalty on the sidewalk in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Today’s blog entry comes from Jonathan Sheehan, intern for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. This fall, Jonathan will be a high school senior at Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland. He enjoys playing baseball and soccer and one of his career goals is “someday to run for public office.”

Which is a good thing – can you imagine what the climate will be like for abolish the death penalty if more abolitionists entered politics?

Here is Jonathan’s report from the sidewalk in front of the U.S. Supreme Court:

“Equal Justice Under Law.”

These words are carved in the marble over the pillars that support our nation’s Supreme Court building. Just below the steps of this American landmark stood 30 or so protestors, holding signs and demonstrating their support for the abolition movement. Quotes from Justice Byron White, Coretta Scott King, and others could be seen on signs and t-shirts alike. As a man walked by the vigil, I heard him remark, “Take them executed people to your house and let them live with you.”

I just wish he had stayed the rest of the morning.

As I stood in the heat, I recognized death row exoneree Shujaa Graham standing in the shade listening to his walkman. Mr. Graham and I met this past week at the Death Penalty Information Center’s Thurgood Marshall awards. He gave me a big hug, and we started to discuss his many reasons for being at the vigil. Mr. Graham spent three years on California’s San Quentin death row, before being released in 1979. His experiences have prompted him to travel the country and speak to high school and university students. His message is clear and concise: “Learn what you can [about the death penalty] and understand the reality.”

Information is power. Shujaa Graham knows that if people learn all there is to learn, someday we will outlaw “the lynching that is the death penalty.”

As the morning drew on, guests spoke adamantly in favor of abolition. Kurt Rosenberg, director of the “Witness to Innocence” program, stood up with an unusual group of men behind him. They were a small fraction of the astounding 123 death row exonerees, people freed from death row since the 1970s after evidence emerged of their innocence. This lineup included Ray Krone (Arizona), Ronald Keine (New Mexico), Gary Beeman (Ohio), Harold Wilson (Pennsylvania) and Shujaa Graham (California). Harold Wilson was the 122nd person exonerated from death row, having been released on Nov. 15, 2005. He is sure his wrongful conviction was influenced by the all-white jury that convicted him.

As I stood and listened to these men give gut-wrenching accounts of the horrible injustices they faced, I couldn’t help looking repeatedly at those big marble words above the Supreme Court:

“Equal Justice Under Law.”


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Day One update from the Fast & Vigil

This is from NCADP intern Rachel Lawler, who just returned from spending part of the day down at the U.S. Supreme Court:

Today is the first day of the annual Fast & Vigil at the Supreme Court of the United States. The event began last night with a “Last Supper” at a nice restaurant close to SCOTUS. Attendees were activists, murder victims’ family members, death row family members, and even baby Isaac. The food was delicious and the company was even better. We all laughed over George recounting stories of Mike’s mishaps, while munching on hummus. This is my first Fast & Vigil and also my first time fasting for more than one day. So far I’ve been able to stave off hunger pangs with Gatorade, water, caffeine gum, and Tabasco sauce. My food/beverage intake will be limited to these three things until July 3rd at midnight.

I just returned to the NCADP office after distributing literature about the death penalty to hundreds of Hill workers, tourists, and students. Spending several hours doing this may seem redundant, pointless, even a complete waste of time to some. However, I have always believed that one of the reasons why some people support the death penalty is because they simply don’t know the truth about it. I’d think to myself, “If only they knew the real facts, then perhaps they’d feel differently about it.” So today was the perfect opportunity for me to increase the public’s awareness of the flaws inherent in our death penalty. If I handed a flyer to even one person who after reading it, decides to reexamine their views and ends up opposing the death penalty, then the day was a success. And hey, I got to work on my tan too!

The Fast and Vigil has begun!

Members of the Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing are participating in the annual Fast and Vigil Against the Death Penalty, on the sidewalk in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. With support from NCADP's Abolish the Death Penalty blog, we'll be bringing you "live" reports from the activities over the course of the next four or five days, so check back often!

Also, a new blog has launched to provide additional coverage. You can see it here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

One woman's journey

Out in California, the Ventura Star became the latest newspaper to call for abolition of the death penalty. After the newspaper's editorial appeared, a number of people submitted supportive letters to the editor. Among them was this Journey of Hope member:

Journey offers hope

Re: your June 22 editorial, "Time to end death penalty":

This is an editorial long overdue. In my opinion, the execution of only one innocent person is enough to get rid of the death penalty everywhere.

As the mother of a murder victim, I felt I had to practice what I preach and joined a group of people in Texas, who, with the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, went on a Journey of Hope "From Violence to Reconciliation," a 17-day trip that started in Houston with a quiet vigil in front of the prison in Huntsville where executions take place.

These people came from many states, from Hawaii to Alaska, California to Massachusetts, and states in between. The group consisted of parents of murder victims, relatives of people on death row, mothers of executed victims and men who had spent many years on death row before finally being exonerated.

We had the opportunity to tell our stories in churches, high schools, colleges and universities, wherever we were invited, including speaking in front of the College of Law in Austin.

The reception we received from all, especially the young people, was very gratifying, especially when they acknowledged it by coming to give you a hug and thanking you for coming. Our journey ended in Austin, where we met with the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
There will be another journey in Virginia this October, and, if at all possible, I hope to be there. I cannot think of a more worthwhile project for myself at this time of my life.

Elvira Ramirez Crutcher

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tuesday's Focus: Marietta Jaeger-Lane

This is the second installment of the Tuesday's Focus series. Today we look at the story of Marietta Jaeger-Lane:

Marietta Jaeger's daughter Susie was abducted at the age of seven during a family camping trip in Montana. For over a year afterwards, the family knew nothing of Susie's whereabouts. Shortly before the one-year anniversary of Susie's disappearance, Marietta stated to the press that she wanted to speak with the person who had taken her child. On the anniversary date, she received a call from a young man who taunted her by asking, "So what do you want to talk to me about?"

During the year following Susie's disappearance, Marietta had struggled to balance her rage against her belief in the need for forgiveness. Her immediate response to the young man was to ask how he was feeling, since his actions must have placed a heavy burden on his soul. Her caring words disarmed him, and he broke down in tears on the phone. He subsequently spoke with Marietta for over an hour, revealing details about himself and the crime that ultimately allowed the FBI to solve the case.

Marietta was to learn that Susie had been killed on a remote Montana ranch a week after she disappeared. Despite her family's tragedy, she remains committed to forgiveness and has been an ardent opponent of the death penalty for the over 25 years since Susie's death.

(Reprinted with permission from Not in our Name: Murder Victims Families Speak Out Against the Death Penalty, a publication of Murder Victims Families For Reconciliation (Barbara Hood & Rachel King, Editors; MVFR)

Several years ago Marietta married Bob Lane and left the intercity of Detroit and moved to his sprawling ranch in Three Forks, Montana. Marietta continues to travel around the world with her Christian message of forgiveness

Marietta Jaeger-Lane Quotes:

"Loved ones, wrenched from our lives by violent crime, deserve more beautiful, noble and honorable memorials than pre-meditated, state-sanctioned killings. The death penalty only creates more victims and more grieving families. By becoming that which we deplore -- people who kill people -- we insult the sacred memory of all our precious victims."

"Concerning the claim of justice for the victim's family, I say there is no amount of retaliatory deaths that would compensate to me the inestimable value of my daughter's life, nor would they restore her to my arms. To say that the death of any other person would be just retribution is to insult the immeasurable worth of our loved ones who are victims. We cannot put a price on their lives. That kind of justice would only dehumanize and degrade us because it legitimates an animal instinct for gut-level bloodthirsty revenge."

"In my case, my own daughter was such a gift of joy and sweetness and beauty, that to kill someone in her name would have been to violate and profane the goodness of her life; the idea is offensive and repulsive to me."

"Capital punishment degrades, dehumanizes and debilitates us as a human society."

Monday, June 19, 2006

Tuesday's focus: SueZann Bosler

Today we introduce a new feature, "Tuesday's Focus."

"Tuesday's Focus" will feature the stories of:
  • Murder victim's family members
  • Death row exonorees
  • Family members of those on death row
  • Family members of those who have been executed
  • Anti-death penalty activists

Today, as the first part of a continuing series, we feature the story of SueZann Bosler.

On December 22, 1986, SueZann Bosler and her father, Rev. Billy Bosler, were attacked in the church parsonage by an intruder. Rev. Bosler was stabbed 24 times. SueZann, in an effort to help him, was herself stabbed in the back and head and left for dead. While lying on the floor pretending to be dead, she heard the intruder ransack the house as she watched her father take his last breath.

As a Brethren minister, Rev. Bosler had been an opponent of capital punishment, and had once told SueZann that if he was ever murdered he would not want his killer to receive the death penalty. On her father's behalf, SueZann worked for 10 1/2 years to spare the life of his murderer, James Bernard Campbell. She voiced her opposition to the death penalty throughout three trials and two sentencings. Her efforts put her at stark odds with Florida prosecutors and judges, who at one point threatened her with contempt of court if she revealed her views to the jury considering Campbell's fate.

SueZann devoted many years to seeking commutation of Campbell's death sentence. On June 13, 1996, her efforts were successful and his sentence was commuted to three consecutive life terms. "Being able to point to him at that moment, and express my forgiveness, was like having a weight lifted from my shoulders," she recalls.

(The above was reprinted with permission from Not In Our Name: Murder Victims Families Speak Out Against the Death Penalty, a publication of Murder Victims Families For Reconciliation, Barbara Hood & Rachel King, Editors.

Links to SueZann’s Journey:

SueZann Bosler Quote:
"My father's favorite hymn was 'Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let it Begin With Me. Those of us who work against the death penalty are working for peace."

Friday, June 09, 2006

Virginia Journey of Hope: Oct. 13-29, 2006

The Journey of Hope is returning to Virginia October 13-29, 2006. Ten years ago the Journey, then an annual event of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation spread throughout the State of Virginia. MVFR Founder Marie Deans, MVFR Executive Director Pat Bane, and Henry Heller, Executive Director Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, did the bulk of the work in organizing the 1996 Virginia Journey of Hope.

In 1997 the Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing incorporated. Since incorporation the Journey has conducted similar events in Texas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio and last year again in Texas. In 2006 we are coming back to Virginia.

As Journey participants we will be sharing our personal stories, speaking from our hearts.
As we speak from our hearts, we touch other people’s hearts.

When someone’s heart is touched they are more receptive to the idea of abolition. They are more likely to rethink their age-old stand of supporting the Death Penalty and realized they can’t support it anymore.

Ask George White, Marietta Jaeger-Lane, SueZann Bosler, Bud Welch, Juan Melendez, David Kaczynski and the rest of the people on the Journey and they will tell you it happens all the time.

We need your help. Won’t you please join us in Virginia October 13-29th and help us spread the seeds of forgiveness as a way of healing, and the seeds of compassion for all of Humanity.

With great organizations like Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation and Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights under the Journeys Spotlight, and with groups like the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Amnesty International USA’s Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and other State and National Coalitions walking hand in hand with us, we will make an impressive impact.

In 1996 the Virginia Journey took on VADP’s goal of ending the 21-day rule and that effort by the Journey was very successful. This year the Journey will be taking on the issue of a Moratorium on the Death Penalty in the State of Virginia.

The Journey will begin in Northern Virginia (near DC). We will spread through parts of the state and reach Richmond, the State Capital the second weekend. It is when Sister Helen Prejean joins the Journey. It is also Amnesty Internationals Faith In Action Weekend. This will be a special weekend for the Journey.

The Virginia Journey will conclude with the gathering of abolitionists for the annual NCADP Conference Oct 26-29th in Reston, VA.

Thank you,
Bill Pelke

Journey of Hope Box 2100390Anchorage, AK 99521-0390 877-9-2-4GIVE (4483)