Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Guilt beyond all reasonable doubt?
Man gets execution date despite strong evidence of innocence

Larry Swearingen, TX, is scheduled to be executed on January 27, 2009.

He was in Jail while the murder in this case occured and the DNA (blood and hairs) excluded him as the biological donor.

Evidence was withheld from medical examiner and the jury; leading the medical examiner at the time of trial to a wrong time of victim's death that erred in the jury coming to a death sentence. The medical examiner reviewed the case in 2007 and reversed her opinion on the date of death, with now four forensic pathologists independently reaching the same conclusion - that the victim got killed and her body dumped in the woods while Larry Swearingen was in jail on unrelated charges.

We ask that you please stop the scheduled execution of Larry Swearingen based on these facts as far as Texas law allows, and urge a reopening of the investigation, as there is other evidence that points unambiguously to actual innocence.

For more information about Larry's case, check out his website at:

Please contact the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and Governor Rick Perry on behalf of Larry Swearingen.

Please send APPEALS TO:

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
General Counsel's Office
(to the attention of Ms Rissie L. Owens, Presiding Officer)
8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard
Austin, Texas 78758
Phone: 1 512 406 5852
Fax: 1 512 406 5852
Salutation: Dear Ms Owens

Governor Rick Perry
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, TX 78711-2428
Fax: 1 512 463 1849
Salutation: Dear Governor

Phone (Office of the Governor):
for Texas callers: (800) 252-9600
for calls from other States and outside the US: 1 512 463-2000

Please also sign the online-petition for Larry Swearingen here

NOTE: Montgomery County District Attorney Michael A. McDougal (he set the date for Larry) will leave office on January 1, 2009 and Brett Ligon will become the new Montgomery County District Attorney.

After January 1, 2009 - after he takes office - it might also be worthwhile to write Mr. Ligon and ask him to withdraw the January 27, 2009 execution date for Larry Swearingen.

Brett Ligon
Montgomery County District Attorney
207 W. Phillips, 2nd Flr.
Conroe, Texas 77301

Monday, December 29, 2008

A news story from Australia

December 29, 2008 - 5:42PM - theage.com.au

The family of a teenager stabbed to death at a Sydney railway station have gathered for the much-loved youth's funeral, saying they forgive his killer.

Andrew Motuliki, 17, was stabbed in the chest with a large fishing knife allegedly after a fight broke out between two groups of teenagers on a train at Campsie station, in Sydney's south-west, on December 21.

Passengers on the train tried to give the Marrickville teenager first aid but he was pronounced dead on arrival at St George Hospital.

A 16-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has been charged with his murder, as well as affray and custody of a knife in a public place.

He was refused bail in Parramatta Children's Court the day after the stabbing death.

"This boy who did this to my son, I forgive you," Andrew's father Etikailahi Motuliki told the Ten Network.

"Pray to God, pray for forgiveness."

His mother, Ane Motuliki, echoed the words of forgiveness, happy for the murder-accused to be dealt with by the courts, saying: "(I) leave up to whoever (to) deal with him".

Shortly after the killing, the Motulikis made a tearful public plea for people not to carry knives.

"I would like to appeal to kids everywhere not to carry knives," Mr Motuliki said the day after his son's death.

"They need to find out another way to solve their problems."

Following Monday's funeral, family and friends gathered at the scene of the stabbing, singing and praying for Andrew who was killed on his way to church just days before Christmas.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Attorney speaks up: Why the Death Penalty is Irrevocably Wrong



December 28, 2008

Mistakes are made. Horrible mistakes are made. It is time for Connecticut's legislature to abolish the death penalty — now, in the 2009 legislative session — to limit future mistakes.

On Dec. 19, Miguel Roman was released from prison after 20 years, based on newly reviewed evidence. Another man has been arrested for the murder that kept Miguel's family fatherless for two decades. Neither case is resolved yet. Can anyone doubt Miguel would not have been released from his 60-year sentence unless prosecutors believed he had been dreadfully wronged? Other mistakes will surely occur. Some may kill innocent persons.

We should abolish the death penalty because it is simply wrong for us, as individuals and as a community, to kill people. It is wrong to kill with premeditation and legal process aforethought. It is wrong to take 20 years to litigate, appeal, remand and re-litigate a case in order to kill a human being. It diminishes our humanity and our respect for life.

It is true that Connecticut has executed only one person in the past 40 years. The infrequency with which the ultimate punishment is used does not make it right. And there is collateral damage from our system of capital punishment. The existence of the death penalty distorts the operation of our criminal justice system. Defendants accept sentences of "life without release" to avoid facing trials and a potential death sentence. The state avoids the burden of proving its most serious cases beyond a reasonable doubt.

The U.S. Supreme Court is moving in the direction of abolishing the death penalty. Fifty years ago in Trop v. Dulles, it declared, "Evolving standards of decency must embrace and express respect for the dignity of the person." The punishment of criminals must conform to that rule. Within the past six years, the Bush court has declared use of the death penalty unconstitutional for the mentally retarded, juveniles and child rapists in cases where the child has not died.

As of April 2007, the Innocence Project reported that 200 persons in the United States had been exonerated through DNA evidence. More have been freed since then, including Roman, who has been granted a new trial after the Innocence Project asked that DNA evidence from his case be retested with modern technology. Most have suffered years of incarceration. Their families were deprived of companionship and support.

Yet most criminal cases do not involve DNA. Many wrongful convictions result from of mistaken eyewitness identifications. Honest but terrified crime victims or witnesses may glimpse attackers for only a few seconds, often in poor light. Victims are often traumatized. They are under pressure from police to identify the attackers. Victims and their families want to help capture criminals, to make the streets safe and spare others from similar experiences. Scared survivors look at mug shot books with pictures of "similar-looking" suspects. Many become genuinely convinced they can identify their attackers. Mistakes in these kinds of cases are even harder to reverse than mistakes resolvable by DNA.

Knowing that mistakes are made, and that exonerations continue, we should not wait any longer to abolish the death penalty in Connecticut. Yes, I know about the tragic murders in Cheshire. Sadly, nothing we can ever do will bring the Pettit women back to life.

Realistically, the most gruesome killers will not be deterred by the existence of a death penalty. We have a death penalty. It didn't prevent Cheshire.

Even State's Attorney John Connelly of the judicial district of Waterbury, which has sent more men to death row than any other in Connecticut, candidly told an informational forum of the legislature in January 2005 that the purpose of the death penalty "is not deterrence. It's retribution. ... The question becomes we as a community, we as a society, who do we feel is appropriate for these types of cases?"

To me the question is, "Is it appropriate for us to kill anyone?" And the answer is, "No."

The Cheshire murder cases are keeping this state, its General Assembly and its criminal justice community from serious consideration of abolishing the death penalty. We should not put our progress toward justice on hold. We should demand that our legislators abolish Connecticut's death penalty. And the governor should sign the abolition bill into law.

• Margaret P. Levy of West Hartford was the attorney for Miguel Roman in 1993 during his unsuccessful appeal of his murder conviction to the Connecticut Supreme Court and his petition to the U.S. Supreme Court for it to hear his case. She has not represented him since.

Copyright © 2008, The Hartford Courant

For URL go here

Friday, December 26, 2008

The power of forgiveness at Christmas

"This Christmas, Samuel will celebrate with Jesus, whom he loved so much. This Christmas I only ask Jesus that my husband's ministry - to spread the Gospel - will continue, that people will learn the Good News of our Savior, that people will learn to forgive and believe in His Name." There is no hatred or desire for revenge in the words of Kadamphul Nayak, 47, whose husband was killed by Hindu fundamentalists in the early days of anti-Christian violence in Orissa. "For me, it was a privilege to be his wife," the woman says, "and although we no longer have a home, the presence of Jesus in our hearts is a reason for comfort for us."

Kadamphul Nayakg is one of the many widows who, out of the refugee camps of Orissa, have found hospitality in Bangalore thanks to the work of the Global Council of Indian Christians. Her husband, Samuel Nayak, 52, was a pastor and preached the word of God for more than 25 years in the most remote areas of Orissa. Originally from the village of Bakingia, in the district of Kandhamal, he was killed by Hindu fundamentalists last August 26, because he refused to renounce his faith in Christ and convert to Hinduism.

"Around 8:00 a.m.," the woman says, "an armed mob of 500 Hinduvta extremists came to Bakingia village: they stormed the church, desecrated the church, looted valuables and burned it down. I told my husband to flee into the forest, but he refused, as his aged mother Janamati Nayak (75 years) was staying with us.

"The extremists, who were also carrying inflammables like gasoline and kerosene, came to our house, shouting Hindu chants. They dragged my husband outside and thrashed him severely, some of the men placed a knife and this throat and demanded that Samuel renounce Christ, which he refused to do. This angered the extremists, who then poured kerosene on my mother in-law and set her aflame. As she was burning, they repeated their demand to renounce Christ. One of them had tied me up with a knife to my throat also, but Samuel refused to embrace Hinduism.

The extremists began slashing him on his neck, back and heels, they also slashed me on my stomach reaching up to my back. For the third time, they asked him to denounce Jesus, and in spite of the heavy bleeding and being in great pain, in a gasping low tone he said: 'For 25 years, I have been in the Gospel ministry, I have walked all over Orissa telling people that Jesus loves and Jesus saves, I will never abandon my Jesus'. This angered the extremists, who then slashed his throat, and shouted, 'Now let us see how your Jesus will save you'."

After killing her husband, the fundamentalists covered Kadamphul's body with kerosene; almost miraculously, she was able to get away and hide in the forest before they set fire to her. "The next day, I crept into some bushes and saw my husband's burnt body, exactly where they had killed him, but I was too afraid to go to him. His dead body was lying there for three days in Bakingia. On August 28 some extremists came andy took away the dead body and threw it away. Still today, I don't know where is my husband's dead body."

Now Kadamphul Nayak has found refuge and welcome in Bangalore, but her thoughts go to her two children and her grandchildren in the refugee camps in Orissa. "Every year at Christmas, my husband used to dramatize the Christmas story through a live crib, with animals and shepherds and Mary and Joseph and the new baby. Though we have lost all worldly possessions, this new baby will be born to fill us with hope and a spirit of forgiveness. Here in this relief camp, we can understand the actual reality of the birth of Christ, in these tents, in the cold, in the precariousness."

By Nirmala Carvalho - SperoNews

Thursday, December 25, 2008



There is a connection between forgiveness and the story of Christmas. It all began thousands of years ago in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve committed a sin-they disobeyed God, their Creator. God knew then that the world would be in dire trouble and He had to do something to forgive save His creation.

He promised a seed (Genesis 3:15). The Old Testament prophets, (Isaiah 7, Micah 5. Hosea11) prophesied about Jesus’ birth and Jesus birth was fulfilled in the New Testament. (Matthew and Luke 1 & 2). The promised seed, Jesus was born and Christmas is celebrated to commemorate the birth of Jesus. Although there are contraversaries about the correct date of Jesus’ birth, I think it is a great opportunity to celebrate His birth. This is my favorite time of the year, because I am grateful to God for giving His son to die, so that my sins are forgiven.

God sent His only son into the world to die for our sins. Jesus died for our sins, yet He Himself never sinned. He was perfect. He asked God to forgive the people who hurt and sinned against Him. We have been summoned to be like Jesus, follow His example and obey His Words which is the Holy Bible. One of the commands given in the Word is that we must forgive.

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matthew 6:14-15).

Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. (Matthew 6:14-15).

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32).

(taken from: http://netwebmarketer.com/pauline/wordpress/2008/12/11/forgiveness-and-the-story-of-christmas/)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008























DEC. 2008

Sunday, December 21, 2008

North Carolina Death Penalty Year in Review 2008 & More from Death Watch

NC Death Penalty Year in Review 2008
December 18, 2008

It has been an exceptional year for life in North Carolina. No one was executed, and only one new person was added to death row (the lowest number since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1977). This year, as many capital defendants were acquitted as were sentenced to death. More death row inmates were exonerated than executed. North Carolina should be proud.

Nationally, executions began again following the Supreme Court’s decision in Baze v. Rees, but lethal injection remains stalled in North Carolina due to litigation by inmates subject to the procedure as well as the doctors forced to participate in it.

Capital Trial Statistics

Life without parole - 9 (Kenneth Hartley, Charles Dickerson, Eric Oakes, Jakiem Wilson, James Stitt, Robert Windsor, Lisa Greene, Neil Sargeant, James Blue)

Sentences less than life -3 (Pliney Purser, Jonte McLaurin, John Chavis Ross)

Death -1 (James Ray Little)

Military capital trial acquittals – 1 (Alberto Martinez)

Post-Conviction Statistics

Executions – 0

Exonerations – 2 (Levon “Bo” Jones, Glen Edward Chapman)

Death row inmates getting new trials – 2 (John Conaway, William Moore)

Death row inmates getting new sentencing hearings – 1 (William Gray)

Otherwise removed from death row – 2 (Clinton Smith, Carlos Cannady)

Incompetent for execution – 1 (Guy LeGrande)

Deaths from natural causes – 3 (Gary Greene, Leroy McNeill, George Page)—

If you would like to be part of making 2009 another Year of Life, please consider making a donation to NC-based groups like the Fair Trial Initiative.

Life for James Blue
December 17, 2008

James Junior Blue has been sentenced to life without parole in Robeson County. Mr. Blue’s was the last North Carolina capital trial of 2008.

James Ray Little was the only person sentenced to death in North Carolina this year. 2008 saw the lowest number of new death sentences in North Carolina since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977.

December 17, 2008

Of late, DW has refocused its efforts, blogging only about death penalty-related events in North Carolina. But sometimes a story comes along that’s just impossible to ignore. Grits for Breakfast reports, “Police in Albuquerque, N.M. have become so reliant on snitches to solve cases that when they couldn’t generate enough informants organically they began to advertise in the local paper.”

The ad?


Would it have cost extra to add “truth-telling optional?”

Paid informants have been responsible for sending untold numbers of innocent people to prison, sometimes even to death row. (Just ask Bo Jones and Jonathan Hoffman.)

The Albuquerque police are taking the documented unreliability of informants to a whole new level. As noted in the original USA Today article, offering easy money in these tough economic times is especially likely to lead to false information. The brazenness of the ad makes me wonder if this is even a concern for the APD. And as Grits points out, since when is “drug use OK” from the perspective of law enforcement?

The ACLU has some thoughts on how to reform the informant system.

For this & more, see December blogs - Here

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pentagon (Still) Seeking Death Penalty in Trial of Prisoner

Pentagon Seeking Death Penalty in Trial of Cole-Bomb Suspect (Water-Boarding has been used along with other other means of torture.) Guilty or not, how is torture and the death penalty going to help serve security? Or will such a plan and execution merely make yet another hero and win more for the cause of anger at the West and worse? A number of Muslim leaders are speaking out condemning terrorism. US current methods will not further their cause.


The Pentagon disclosed late Friday that it is still pursuing the death penalty prosecution at Guantánamo of an alleged architect of the 2000 USS Cole bombing off the coast of Yemen, a day after revealing that staffers are drafting plans to close the prison camps.

Abd al Rahim Nashiri, 43, could be executed by the U.S. military if he is convicted at the remote U.S. Navy base in Cuba in the attack that killed 17 sailors.

Nashiri, born in Saudi Arabia, allegedly tested and equiped a small garbage barge with bombs, then sent two jihadists to detonate their load, blasting a 40-foot hole in the $1 billion warship.

Defense lawyer Denny LeBoeuf blasted the decision, noting that the charges were first proposed six months ago and were approved ``a month and a day before the [Barack Obama] inauguration. I think it's outrageous.''

She noted that the CIA had admitted to waterboarding Nashiri in secret overseas custody, a technique some lawyers argue would invalidate any of his confessions.

President-elect Obama has pledged to close the prison camps and said he favors traditional trials over Guantánamo's special post-9/11 war court.

ACLU director Anthony Romero called the timing of the Nashiri charges ``another 11th hour stunt from the Bush administration to tie the hands of the incoming president.''

Friday's move is the latest sign that the Pentagon is trying to make good on plans to try up to 70 men at Guantánamo.

The court had also scheduled a Jan. 19-21 mental competency hearing in another death penalty case -- for alleged 9/11 co-conspirator Yemeni Ramzi bin al Shibh.

SOURCE: Miami Herald

Andy Worthington, probably the most definitive writer on all the Guantanamo prisoners to date is author of the book: -The Guantanamo Files- and more on nearly a daily basis

For specific details on Al-Nashiri from Andy Worthington go:

Note: Al-Nashiri is also referred to as Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. GO Here

Analysis & Commentary: Justice | Brennan Center for Justice
... 2005 the CIA destroyed videotapes of interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, two early detainees in the Bush Administration's "war on terror"

And for the home page of this Brennan Center

Also you may want to see the reports available through Seton Hall Law School

End of Year Reports

Death Penalty Sentences Have Dropped Considerably in the Current Decade
Posted: December 19, 2008

Compared to the 1990’s, there has been a marked decline in death sentences in the U.S. since 2000. Every region of the country and every state that averaged one or more death sentences per year have seen a decline in the annual number of death sentences. The chart below compares the annual number of death sentences in each state in the 1990s with the 2000s. North Carolina, California, Florida, and Texas experienced the greatest declines in sentencing. This issue and others are addressed in the Death Penalty Information Center’s Year End Report, released December 11, 2008.

From Karl Keys

In the news, the end of the year round-ups have commenced. The good news? Texas. Yes, Texas. This year Teas has averaged a new death sentence every 40 days or so, the slowest rate in decades (three decades). While the future might be brighter, Texas was again an outlier in terms of executions, accounting for half of all people put to death nationwide in 2008. TCADP has the details in Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2008.

In other news, DPIC notes "a new study published in the Houston Law Review, "Racial Disparities in the Capital of Capital Punishment," explores the relationship of race to death sentencing in Harris County (Houston), Texas. In the study, Prof. Scott Phillips of the University of Denver explores patterns involving the race of both victims and defendants, while controlling for other variables." In a high profile military prosecution, SSgt Alberto Martinez was acquitted over the alleged "fragging" of two officers. South Carolina carried out the final execution of 2008, on Friday evening, that of Joseph Gardner; the 37th execution of 2008; the 1,136th since 1977.

Finally, one of my favorite public defenders and bloggers, Randall Hodgkinson @ the Kansas Defenders pithily summed up the state of indigent defense better than anyone I know: As a matter of constitutional law and legal ethics, quality representation for the poor is not negotiable. If the state doesn't want to pay for indigent defense, it needs to prosecute fewer people (or at least fewer poor people).

For The End of the Year 2008 Report from Death Penalty Focus/DPIC RELEASE CLICK

Please add your own reports/URLS/response to Comments below.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Introducing the Journey of Hope - Family:

"No matter how mad I could be at James Bernard Campbell, I still don't believe in the death penalty for this man."

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.

In 1988 while appearing on the Oprah Winfrey Show SueZann met Bill Pelke. They were reunited on the 1993 Indiana Journey of Hope through the efforts of Bob Gross, where she also met Marietta Jaeger. In 1994 SueZann joined with Bill and Marietta for the Discovery Channels' documentary "From Fury to Forgiveness." In 1997 SueZann, Bill, Marietta, George White and Sam Reese Sheppard founded Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing. She has been a board member ever since.

SueZann has traveled internationally on behalf of the Journey and is often a guest speaker for the Church of the Brethren's program "On Earth Peace."

SueZann's fight to save her father's killer from the death penalty is very well described here. Unfortunately this text is way too long to copy into this blog but it's absolutely worth reading!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Freed in 2008

by the Innocence Project

So far this year, 13 people around the United States have been exonerated by DNA testing after serving more than 200 combined years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. At least 10 more people have been cleared by DNA but are waiting for their exonerations to become official.

Here are the stories of those exonerated so far in 2008:

Michael Blair was convicted and sentenced to death in Texas based on improper forensic testimony and several eyewitness misidentifications. He served nearly 14 years on Texas death row for a murder he didn’t commit.

Kennedy Brewer was sentenced to death in 1995 for a child murder he didn’t commit. He was freed when DNA testing secured by the Innocence Project led to the identity of the real perpetrator. His exoneration also led to critical reforms on handling evidence and state oversight for autopsies.

Dean Cage was exonerated by DNA testing in Chicago after spending 12 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit.

Charles Chatman served 27 years in Texas prison for a rape he didn’t commit before DNA testing secured by the Innocence Project of Texas set him free.

Nathaniel Hatchett was 17 years old when he was arrested for a carjacking and rape he didn’t commit. He served 10 years in Michigan before he was cleared.

Arthur Johnson spent 16 years in Mississippi prison for a rape he didn’t commit before DNA testing won by the Innocence Project New Orleans led to his release.

Rickey Johnson served 25 years in Louisiana prison for a rape he didn’t commit before the Innocence Project secured DNA testing that proved his innocence. The test results pointed to the identity of a Louisiana inmate who was convicted of committing another rape in the same neighborhood after Johnson was convicted.

Robert McClendon was exonerated by DNA in August in a joint project between the Ohio Innocence Project and the Columbus Dispatch. He spent 17 years in Ohio prison for a crime he didn’t commit before he was cleared.

Thomas McGowan served 23 years in Texas prison for a rape he didn’t commit before DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project proved his innocence. He was convicted based on a faulty identification procedure.

Steven Phillips was exonerated in October after serving more than two decades in Texas prison for a series of rapes he didn’t commit. DNA testing obtained on Phillips’ behalf by the Innocence Project pointed to the identity of the real perpetrator of the crime.

Ronnie Taylor was convicted in 1993 of a rape he didn’t commit based on faulty forensic tests at the troubled Houston crime lab. His exoneration became official in January, just days after he married his longtime fiancee Jeanette Brown. The couple now lives in Atlanta.

Patrick Waller served more than 15 years in Texas prison for a rape he didn’t commit. He is the 21st person cleared by DNA testing in Dallas County.

Joseph White, exonerated in November, was the first person cleared by DNA testing in Nebraska history. His five co-defendants are awaiting pardons from the governor in order to be fully exonerated.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Give true gift of Christmas: Forgive others

Some time ago, I wrote a column on the barnacles that cover sunken ships to the extent they obscure entirely that which is covered, so as to render unrecognizable the object that is covered.

I wonder if that is happening with the celebration of Christmas. Christmas has really nothing to do with reindeer, Santas, trees, revelry, drinking parties and the like.

Before we can proceed with engaging in the celebration of the season, we will have to "clean out the attic of our minds" (scrape the barnacles, if you please). We have already done a pretty good job of distorting other holidays, such as Easter, which has nothing to do with bunnies and eggs. We also messed up Hallowed Eve (currently Hallow "een") from the purity of remembering the saints who have passed on to the comical nightmare of Halloween.

Christmas introduces into our lives an element of civility, happiness -- purposes greater than those with which we normally deal. It offers a perspective of life that is somehow transcendent, and we begin to think of all things, and others, before ourselves! It changes people, at least for a season, and sometimes for life.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Great minds speak about ideas -- average minds speak about people!" Christmas not only speaks about the greatness of ideas, but also about events and people.

What is Christmas all about? Basically, it is about forgiveness! The one around whom Christmas is centered brought to us the great gift of forgiveness. That forgiveness is all about being what we were created to be. It is about restoration and hope and wholeness.

Just suppose we began each day with not only accepting the gift of forgiveness for ourselves, but also by giving the gift to others -- for the real or imagined hurts, slights and betrayals. How beautiful our relations would be. We would begin each day to live life like the creator intended us to live. What a way to celebrate Christmas! How much more incredibly beautiful it would be.

Try it. It would be the grandest revolution in the world.

A blessed Christmas to you all.

Joseph S. Donchez
taken from: TheDailyJournal.com

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Death penalty system fatally flawed

by Sam Millsap, a former Bexar County district attorney

According to a report released last week by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty — Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2008: The Year in Review — this year Texas juries condemned the fewest number of people to death in more than 30 years.

As of Dec. 10, a total of 10 people (nine men and one woman) had been sentenced to death in Texas in 2008.

Perhaps this reflects the public's growing uneasiness with the death penalty or prosecutors' recognition that the costs of the ultimate punishment — both human and financial — are too high. Or perhaps my fellow Texans have come to share my realization that a fallible system that puts people to death simply cannot be trusted.

Evidence of misplaced trust in the death penalty system was on stark display on Aug. 25, when a Collin County court dismissed all charges against death row inmate Michael Blair for the 1993 rape and murder of 7-year-old Ashley Estell.

After the results of new DNA testing failed to connect him to the crime, those involved in the case agreed that there was not enough evidence to uphold the conviction. Blair had spent 14 years on death row. Michael Blair was the fourth person exonerated from death row nationally in 2008 and the 130th overall since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

DNA played a role in just 17 of these cases. Blair is the ninth person exonerated from death row in Texas.

Such willingness to admit a mistake has come too late for several inmates who claimed to be innocent of the crimes for which they were executed.

In an interesting turn of events, the Texas Forensic Science Commission agreed this past August to a request from the Innocence Project to investigate the possibility of misconduct in the arson case of Cameron Todd Willingham.

Willingham was convicted in 1991 of setting a fire that killed his three daughters; he was executed by the State of Texas in 2004. According to the Innocence Project, a panel of leading experts later determined that the fire was not arson and that forensic experts at the time of Willingham's trial should have known that the fire was an accident. The commission will investigate the faulty forensic analysis used to convict Willingham.

Similar analysis was used in 2004 to exonerate Ernest Ray Willis, who had spent 17 years on Texas' death row for a crime that did not occur. Should the results of this investigation rule out arson, it will further undermine the credibility and integrity of the Texas death penalty system — though clearly too late to benefit Mr. Willingham.

In another Texas case, that of Carlos De Luna, a documentary film released earlier this year continued to call into question his guilt. “At the Death House Door” is based on an in-depth inquiry by journalists with the Chicago Tribune. To date, no official investigation has taken place, although strong evidence points to another suspect in the crime (now deceased) for which De Luna was executed 19 years ago.

We cannot sanction a death penalty system that gets it right most of the time. An honest assessment of the problems associated with the death penalty is long overdue.

I urge Texas lawmakers to consider the cases of Cameron Todd Willingham, Carlos De Luna, Michael Blair, Ernest Ray Willis and others when they reconvene in January and to recognize the ultimate fallibility of a system that no longer deserves our trust... or our support.

When it comes to human life, a system that gets it right most of the time should not exist at all.
(source: San Antonio Express-Newa)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Death Penalty Should Be Abolished in MD, Commission Recommends

ANNAPOLIS, MD – A commission set up to examine the death penalty in Maryland is recommending that the state abolish it.

Here's the full report:

Today, Chairman Benjamin R. Civiletti and the members of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment presented their final report which, after studying the key factors required by statute, recommended that capital punishment in Maryland be abolished.

“I am honored to have served with such dedicated individuals on this Commission and the citizens of Maryland should be proud of their work,” said Chairman Civlietti. “After hearing from many experts and families who have had the misfortune of going through the process of capital punishment, I am confident that we have examined every angle and come to the conclusion that best serves our fellow Marylanders.”

During the 2008 Legislative Session, The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment was created by an act of the Maryland General Assembly for the purpose of studying all aspects of capital punishment as currently and historically administered in the State. The Commission presented this recommendation in a final report and a minority report in accordance with §2-1246 of the State Government Article, to the General Assembly.

The Commission’s findings from the final report are as follows:

1. Racial disparities exist in Maryland’s capital sentencing system.

2. Jurisdictional disparities exist in Maryland’s capital sentencing system.

3. Due to a lack of research on socio-economic disparities in Maryland, the Commission does not reach a conclusion on this matter.

4. The costs associated with cases in which a death sentence is sought are substantially higher than the costs associated with cases in which a sentence of life without the possibility of parole is sought.

5. While both life without the possibility of parole and death penalty cases are extremely hard on families of victims, the Commission finds that the effects of capital cases are more detrimental to families than are life without the possibility of parole cases. The Commission recommends an increase of the services and resources already provided to families of victims as recommended by the Victims’ Subcommittee.

6. Despite the advance of forensic sciences, particularly DNA testing, the risk of execution of an innocent person is a real possibility.

7. While DNA testing has become a widely accepted method for determining guilt or innocence, it does not eliminate the risk of sentencing innocent persons to death since, in many cases, DNA evidence is not available and, even when it is available, is subject to contamination or error at the scene of the offense or in the laboratory.

8. The Commission finds that there is no persuasive evidence that the death penalty deters homicides in Maryland.

9. Ultimate Recommendation: The Commission recommends abolition of capital punishment in the state of Maryland.

The Commission also presented their minority report to the General Assembly which detailed the opposition to the abolition of the death penalty in Maryland and maintained that the State has in place the tools needed to prevent the unfair application of this practice.

“The close vote on the Commission's findings regarding the death penalty in Maryland demonstrates that this is an issue upon which reasonable minds can differ,” State’s Attorney for Baltimore County Scott Shellenberger said as the representative of the views of the minority vote. “It is my strong belief that the death penalty should remain a sentencing option for those prosecutors who wish to seek it.

The statute passed by the General Assembly called for the Commission to be comprised of 23 appointees – 13 Commissioners were gubernatorial appointees and 9 were non-gubernatorial appointees. Further, the Chair was jointly selected by the Governor, the Speaker of the House and Senate President and as the Statute requires, the Commission represents the broad diversity of views on capital punishment, as well as the racial, ethnic, gender, and geographic diversity of the State.

The Commission held five public hearings where testimony from experts and members of the public was presented. The Commission also held five additional meetings where the testimony and evidence presented to the Commission was discussed and later voted upon. The Commission has made a recommendation concerning the application and administration of capital punishment in the State so that they are free from bias and error and achieve fairness and accuracy.

The final vote count on the recommendation to abolish the death penalty was thirteen members in favor of abolishment and nine members in opposition of that view. Secretary Maynard of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services abstained from voting. Detailed vote counts on each of the findings of the Commission are contained in the final report.

Members of the public are encouraged to visit the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment website at http://www.goccp.org/capital-punishment/index.php to view the progress of the Commission. Once the final report is released, DVD’s of the report will be available by request and will also be posted on the Commission website found at the link above.
(Source: Your4state.com)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Breaking news from Africa:
Death penalty abolished in Togo

The Togolese government has announced the abolition of death penalty, the state radio reported. The decision to scrap death penalty in the West African nation was announced at the end of the cabinet meeting held here Wednesday evening.

"The choice by the country to set up a healthy judiciary limiting miscarriages of justice, correcting, educating and ensuring human rights is no longer consistent with the criminal law that still implements death penalty," a statement read on the state-owned radio said.

An interview with Juan Melendez

SAN JUAN -- Puerto Rican Juan Melendez, who spent 17 years eight months and one day behind bars awaiting execution for a crime he did not commit, told Efe about life on death row at the state prison in Starke, Florida.

Melendez, who entered the prison in 1984 and was released on Jan. 3, 2002, said he survived because of the fraternal love among the inmates, who offer one another "a shoulder to cry on."

But "the worst thing about being inside is when they execute someone who you've been with for so many years and who's become a relative. First, you feel the buzzing when they turn on the electricity in the electric chair and you know the precise moment of execution because the lights go out and flicker."

Also, you miss your family, "especially around Christmas a person needs family warmth more," recalled the 57-year-old Melendez, who upon being convicted broke off his relationship with his girlfriend by whom he had three daughters "so that they would not go through that suffering."

Melendez reunited with his daughters "when they were grown up and didn't know what had happened," and then he got to know his six grandchildren. Now he lives in New Mexico devoting his time and effort to giving talks against the death penalty.[...]

Melendez said that during his stay on death row, he knew at least five other prisoners awaiting execution who were also innocent. "I studied their cases and there was evidence" of their innocence, he said, adding that capital punishment is not the solution to serious crimes because "there are alternatives," such as being sentenced to life in prison.

"When they take away a person's freedom, they're taking away your life. Prison is no party, you don't have to kill him. Besides, the person can change in prison over the years and end up being someone else. However, the death penalty doesn't settle anything," Melendez insisted.

Regarding Puerto Rico, "which received me like a hero," Melendez said he felt proud because the island's people have always been against accepting the death penalty and its constitution prohibits that form of punishment, but the island's status as a U.S. commonwealth subordinates it in the final analysis to U.S. justice.

"The federal government should respect the constitution of Puerto Rico. The people of Puerto Rico don't want the death penalty but the federal government tries to push it on them," he said.

"For me this is really personal. Seeing that there are people who haven't (experienced) what happened to me, but who are fighting against the death penalty makes me feel really proud," Melendez said. EFE

Taken from "Puerto Rican Jailed for 17 Years On Death Row For Murder He Did Not Commit" - Latin American Harold Tribune

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations.

The UDHR was written in a time when the world still recoverd from WW2, in a time when the world still believed this was the last war which would ever happen, when there was hope and a humatarian spirit was to be felt all over the western world.

Today this declaration turns 60. Lots of newspapers write about this anniversary and still: who actually read the declaration? Have YOU ever read it?

A few days ago I sat down thinking about this anniversary and wondering how "modern" the declaration could be? It was written 60 years ago, in a different time, a different atmosphere. Could it be as true and important now as it was back then?

I had read it before, several years ago and every so often I look something up in this declaration but this was the first time I really sat down, read all of it and tried to understand how trying to re-feel the spirit which moved the signers of it to write it. An interesting experience.

So today I don't want to put any long texts on this blog but I want to offer the link to this declaration to you and invite you to read or re-read it and find out what it means for you and how it makes you feel:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

This is an exact copy of the cover of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was placed in the Cornerstone of the United Nations Headquarters Building by Trygve Lie, Secretary-General of the United Nations, at the time of the Cornerstone Ceremony which was held at 12 noon, October 24th, 1949, at a special meeting of the Fourth Regular Session of the General Assembly, at the Headquarters site on 42d Street, New York.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Author of -Execution’s Doorstep: True Stories of the Innocent and Near Damned- writes about her journey with JOURNEY

Find choice endorsements and recent web exclusives on the book's website (find the link at end of article) Leslie Lytle: "I expected the Journey would be a gut-wrenching and, perhaps, even depressing experience. It was anything but that. Spending eight days with a group of people for whom generosity of spirit had become a way of life, their survival tool for getting through the day, defines the essence of the Journey of Hope..." (Excerpt from article below)

What do they hope for? Find Leslie's answer and links to her book and more by reading this moving piece in full below...

LOCAL ACTION and beyond...

The Journal of the Cumberland Center for Justice and Peace,
Winter 2008 Volume 13, Number 3

Journey of Hope: From Violence to Healing By Leslie Lytle

Journey press conference at the Montana capitol. The Montana legislature came within one vote of abolishing the death penalty in 2007. The current Death Penalty Study Commission in Tennessee is the first step to introducing abolition legislation in our state.

On October 3, I joined with four vanloads of folks—more than 40 people in all—setting out from Helena, Montana for a whirlwind tour of the state. What did these individuals have in common? For most, tragedy—men and women whose loved ones had been murdered in senseless violent crimes; the niece of a man murdered in legal homicide by the state; two women with family members on death row, struggling to prove their innocence in a court system that refused to give credence to the actual killers’ confessions; and five men who once stood on execution’s doorstep, innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted, and came within days of death.

Soft spoken and gentle in manner, Shujaa Graham would train his eyes on the floor when he talked about how he learned to recognize whether or not he was in for “a beatin’” by differentiating among the bootsteps of the guards tramping down “the row”—death row.

Hands stuffed deep in his pockets, Greg Wilhoit’s “awe shucks” attitude,lent a humorous flavor to his death-row account—“I believed in the death penalty. I was innocent. The other people in there were bad,” Greg jokes. But after a few weeks, he made friends with the man in the cell “next door.” Gregg stuffs his hands deeper in his pockets and looks out over the tops of heads in the crowd gathered to hear him speak, “They killed him—it didn’t accomplish anything.”

The eight-day Montana tour marked the annual Journey of Hope, which originated in 1993 largely through the efforts of Bill Pelke whose diligence and compassion stopped the execution of the teenager who murdered his grandmother. A collaboration between murder victim family members and death row exonerated, the Journey visits a different state each year, making presentations at educational institutions, churches, and civic venues—for the Montana tour sponsoring nearly 50 events.

Many of the Journey members have participated in every Journey tour since 1993. An angelic aura surrounds Marietta Jaeger-Lane whose seven-year-old daughter was kidnapped and murdered during a family camping trip. A year passed before Marietta knew her daughter’s fate. At the peak of her rage,Marietta realized that her hate would destroy her and her family, and she began to pray for her daughter’s abductor, that he would have a good day, catch a “big one” if he went fishing, and that he would be happy and gentle with “Susie.” Eventually, he phoned her. Marietta first asked about her daughter and then asked him, “What can we do for you?” The man broke down and wept.

All of the murder victim family members on the Journey had opposed the execution of the individual who murdered their loved one, yet in many cases, the executions were carried out in spite of their protests. None of them experienced “closure” from this second killing.

Journey members David Kaczynski and Bill Babbitt told parallel stories—both men turned in their brothers to law enforcement officials. “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski killed three people and maimed many more. Viet Nam War veteran Manny Babbitt suffered a psychotic flashback and assaulted an elderly woman who subsequently died of a heart attack. Ted was rich, white, and held a PhD in mathematics. Manny was poor, black, and dropped out of school in the seventh grade. Ted Kaczynski received a sentence of life without parole. Manny Babbitt was executed on his 50th birthday. David and Bill have become like brothers and routinely travel and speak together, telling a story that is larger than them both.

Sujah Graham and Juan Melendez, death-row exonerated, and Delia Meyer-Perez, whose innocent brother is on Texas’ death row, share sympathetic nods as they listen to Bill Babbitt speak.

I was invited to join the Montana Journey of Hope because two of the journey members were featured in my recently released book, -Execution’s Doorstep-, which tells the stories of five men wrongfully sentenced to death. I expected the Journey would be a gut-wrenching and, perhaps, even depressing experience. It was anything but that. Spending eight days with a group of people for whom generosity of spirit had become a way of life, their survival tool for getting through the day, defines the essence of the Journey of Hope.

What do they hope for? They hope that one day the nation will join them in understanding that the death penalty fails the guilty, fails the innocent, fails the victims of violent homicide, and fails each and every citizen of this country who wants to live in a just and compassionate society. I suspect that would be most of us.

Leslie Lytle is the Executive Director of CCJP. To learn more about her book,
- Execution’s Doorstep: True Stories of the Innocent and Near Damned -
visit Here

Click this link for fuller article with more photos:

Thoughts about the future by Ron Keine

In the last few weeks several people have asked me of my predictions for the abolitionist movement in 2009. I think we should look at the next 8 years to get a true prospective.

Barack Obama has, for the next four years, the task of appointing justices on the Supreme Court. I have no doubt he would appoint liberal judges whom, by nature, would be against capital punishment. The problem is that none of the current justices are ready to die or retire from this life time job. Justice Paul Stevens is the longest serving judge at this time and does not want to retire. Scalia and Thomas (Both Pro Death penalty Vultures) Have no wishes to quit and allow the liberals to amend the constitution. There are predictions that one or two of the conservative judges will retire rather than work with a Democrat president. This is wishful thinking at most. These guys could care less who is president. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has some health issues but I think she will stick around for 2 or 3 more years. Justice David Souter has been whining about how much he hates his job yet he remains. avid conservative Justices Roberts and Alito will, no doubt, stay awhile.

We must remember that Obama is a lawyer. Although we cannot expect politics to not play a part in his Supreme Court nominations He will pick lawyers of the highest caliber. He already has his sights on Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Kathleen Sullivan. The mere fact that he is considering these women brings to light what I expect to be the big news item for 2009. I believe Obama will scrap Roe Vs Wade. This will make it hard for we abolitionists to get press until this issue is dealt with.

If Obama were to get re-elected and serve another four years, that will take us to the year 2016. That is my estimated time line to end the death penalty in America because the next president will probably be conservative. If we do not end the death penalty in the next 8 years our struggle will be much harder.

By 2012 I expect to see many more states abolish the DP. We should gain New Mexico, Maryland and Montana in 2009 alone. Opinions are changing. More and more people are learning about the death penalty. As Justice Thurgood Marshall said in Furman v. Georgia in 1972.) " if the American people were better informed about the immorality of the death penalty, they would consider it shocking, unjust, and unacceptable". We are getting converts on such a regular basis that we may indeed be sparking a trend in the American public.

For many years I have predicted a snowball effect in the abolitionist movement. We gradually grow and gain momentum thanks to the hard work of all the abolitionist groups, public opinion is changing. This year speakers like Witness to Innocence, Journey of hope, Murder victim family members and a host of other groups, coalitions and projects have reached tens of thousands of people on a personal,in-your-face basis. Our media events have reached millions. We have raised public awareness and the polls show that we are winning the battle.

As this momentum builds I believe it will become a juggernaut which the Pro-death penalty vultures cannot stop. I expect to see it happen in my life time. We must continue our struggle. We must fight for what we know is right knowing that the corrupt prosecutors and the other pro Death Penalty minions are working against us in the shadows. Waiting for their chance to kill somebody.

Ronald Keine

Monday, December 08, 2008

Troy Davis Update

Death Penalty and Execution News

Condemned Ga. man seeks another day in court From December 7, 2008

Troy Davis has already been spared from execution 3 times, and this week his lawyers hope to push his extraordinary case one more step toward his exoneration when they ask a federal panel to let them file another appeal of his death sentence.

As they have argued before, Davis' lawyers will tell the 3-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday that their client was the victim of mistaken identity, and note that 7 of 9 key witnesses that testified against him in the 1991 trial have recanted their statements.

But the hearing likely won't focus entirely on whether Davis was rightly convicted of the 1989 murder of Savannah Police Officer Mark MacPhail. Instead it could turn on whether federal law allows the 40-year-old's attorneys to call for a new trial at all.

Davis' lawyers have struggled to convince a judge at any level to grant him another hearing on claims that he is innocent, partly because much of the evidence they say could lead to his exoneration was revealed after Davis was convicted. The hearing offers them a ripe opportunity to argue that federal laws allow them to pursue such a challenge at this late stage in the process.

In their briefs, Davis' attorneys argue that it is "constitutionally intolerable" to execute Davis without first hearing his innocence claims. They say they could only press the claim that Davis is innocent after they had attempted a range of other appeals.

"It's one of the arguments that can really only be brought after you've exhausted other state avenues of relief," said Jason Ewart, a Davis attorney. "For this claim to be cognizable, you have to show a convincing case of innocence. But one of the issues is whether or not we can bring this case. It's rather nebulous."

Attorneys representing the state say this type of appeal, called a stand-alone innocence claim, could have been made long before Davis' team filed a motion for a new trial in Savannah's Chatham County last year. And they say the courts reviewing the case have already ruled that Davis won't meet high legal standards for a new trial.

The hearing will be the latest flashpoint in a case that has attracted widespread attention, sparked dozens of international protests and won Davis the support of former President Jimmy Carter and leading law-and-order advocates who say Davis deserves another day in court.

"Davis is not asking the court to set him free," former FBI Director William S. Sessions wrote in a recent column. "He is asking for the court's permission to give his innocence claims the full hearing they deserve. Our justice system should punish the guilty, free the innocent and have the wisdom to know the difference."

MacPhail was working off-duty as a security guard at a bus station when he rushed to help a homeless man who had been pistol-whipped at a nearby parking lot. The 27-year-old was shot twice when he approached Davis and 2 other men.

Witnesses identified Davis as the shooter in the 1991 trial, and prosecutors said he wore a "smirk" as he fired the gun. But Davis' lawyers have since argued that new evidence should exonerate their client. And they say three others who did not testify have said another man who testified against Davis at his trial confessed to the killing.

Prosecutors have long argued the case is closed. Savannah District Attorney Spencer Lawton also said he doubts the new testimony meets the legal standards for a new trial, and said the witness recantations invites "a suggestion of manipulation, making it very difficult to believe."

Davis execution was scheduled for July 2007, but it was postponed by Georgia's pardons board less than 24 hours before it was to be carried out. A divided Georgia Supreme Court twice rejected Davis' request for a new trial, and the pardons board turned down another bid for clemency after considering the case again.

As corrections officers prepared for Davis' scheduled Sept. 23 execution, the Supreme Court issued a stay to consider whether to grant him another hearing. A few weeks later, though, the court cleared the way for the execution when it decided against hearing the case.

With legal options dwindling just three days before a 3rd scheduled execution date, Davis' attorneys convinced the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to stay the execution again. Tuesday's hearing gives them one more chance to press their appeal.

As the case approaches the latest legal hurdle, the Davis and MacPhail families are in limbo.

Davis, who is being held in state prison, longs for another chance to prove he's innocent, said his sister Martina Correia.

"He's gone through a lot in the last year. Having 3 execution dates in a year is more than most people could bear," she said. "But he's staying faithful, and he's praying that the courts could give him some relief, that they will allow a jury to hear the evidence."

For the MacPhails, the hearing is another painful delay for a family seeking closure for 17 years.

"I don't even know what to expect any more. Every time we think, 'This is it,' something else comes up. I don't know what to expect anymore," said Anneliese MacPhail, the slain officer's 75-year-old mother. "My faith is going down rapidly. This should be over by now."

(source: Associated Press)

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Dear Friends,

Last year I was invited to Italy by the Community of SantÉgidio (CSE) to participate in the Cities of Life Campaign to abolish the death penalty, and to speak about my experience as a murder victim family member. This year, from November 29-December 6, I was invited to Spain by the CSE to be part of the same campaign and, like Italy, it has truly been a remarkable experience.

I arrived in Barcelona in mid-afternoon on November 29. David Salas and Manel Alonso, members of the CSE, met me at the airport and gave me a warm welcome. In the evening I attended Mass with the CSE at Saint Just church. This was followed by a dinner where I met many members of the CSE, some of whom would be my escorts and translators during the coming week. Each year on November 30, the Rome-based CSE organizes events worldwide to abolish the death penalty. On November 30, 2008, 970 events were held worldwide in over 70 countries and 52 capitals, calling for an end to the death penalty. At the Cities of Life event held in the historic square in Barcelona, I was honored to be one of the speakers. Other speakers included Jaume Castro, the founder of the CSE in Barcelona, a representative of the mayor, a local news journalist and a respresentative of Amnesty International. Some 300 people attended this outdoor event, which also included a time of remembrance for the executed--1252 people were executed worldwide in 2007--as well as music by a popular jazz band.

Following this program I flew to Madrid for I was asked to speak there the next morning. I spoke to about 50 students who were part of an English class at the Universidad Complutense. After the class CSE member Jesús Romero gave me a tour of special historic sites of Madrid. Jesús and I then had a good visit with Sr. Leonora, a Carmelite sister who knows the Carmelites in Washington, D.C. whom I am good friends with. I then flew back to Barcelona to continue my speaking tour.

During the next three days I spoke to over 700 students and teachers at two universities and five high schools. There were many powerful moments of sharing with the students, including meeting some who experienced the murder of a loved one. On December 3, before speaking at the Escola Joviat in Manresa, which is about one hour from Barcelona, David took me to visit the cave where St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote the famous spiritual exericses. During my time at the cave, which has been converted into a small chapel, I gave thanks to God for the life of St. Ignatius and remembered in a special way all those Jesuits who have helped and inspired me in my faith journey. Before leaving Manresa, I did an interview with the local newspaper.

Following my return to Barcelona, I learned that Peg McCarthy, my wife Colleen´s beloved aunt, went home to God late in the evening on December 2, the anniversary of the martyrdom of the four U.S. churchwoman who were killed in El Salvador in 1980. Aunt Peg was a holy disciple of Jesus and a reservoir of love for her family and for so many others. I give thanks to God for her great life, and that I had the honor of knowing her. My heart and prayers go out to her beautiful family during this most difficult time. I take consolation in knowing that she is now home with God and is interceding for us along with the entire cloud of witnesses.

My final day in Barcelona included doing an interview with Catholic TV program to be aired on Public Television, visiting Barcelona´s beautiful port, and saying goodbye to members of the CSE.

As I prepare to leave Barcelona tomorrow, I am deeply grateful to the CSE for the countless grace-filled experiences I´ve had during my time in Spain, and for taking such good care of me. My Barcelona hosts, Manel and his wife, Meritxell Téllez, have provided me with extraordinary hospitality. CSE members David Salas, Mariona Téllez, Jordi Vidal and others who have escorted me to different events have been incredible. Evening prayer with the CSE has been very enriching, and I will always be thankful to the community for their prayers for Aunt Pag and her extended family upon learing of her death. Lastly, being able to accompany CSE members in their Thursday evening food sharing with homeless friends living on the streets was a very life-giving experience.

During this Advent time, let us pray for one another that we can deepen our commitment to stand for life wherever it is threatened. In some small way, let us seek to make the Word flesh, as we strive to be Jesus´peace and justice makers in our violent yet still beautiful world.

With love and gratitude,

Art Laffin is a Journey of Hope member who participated in the Cities for Life campaign for Sant Egidio. Art was sent to Spain and the following is his reflection. Last year Art joined the campaign with us in Rome.

Friday, December 05, 2008

SC slaying victim's dad says execution won't help

The father of a woman slain 16 years ago in what authorities initially said was retribution by 5 black men for centuries of racial oppression won't make the trip to South Carolina to see his daughter's killer put to death Friday.

"I'm not going to view the execution because it will just open old wounds," said Clair McLauchlin, 76, who lives with his wife Patricia in Live Oak, a small town in northern Florida.

McLauchlin said the death by lethal injection of Joseph Gardner, 38, on Friday also won't bring closure for his family, even after all these years.

"I can tell you right now, it will never be closed," said McLauchlin, who expects to get a phone call from prison officials when the execution is carried out.

"He was sentenced to death, but he sentenced us to a life sentence when he killed her," McLauchlin said. "It's never going to change. It's never going to go away."

The brutal kidnapping, rape and slaying of 25-year-old Melissa "Missi" McLauchlin, who was white, brought worries about racial unrest just months after the 1992 Los Angeles riots stemming from the acquittals of white police officers accused of beating black motorist Rodney King.

At the time of the shooting, police said Gardner and his co-defendants decided to kill a white woman as retribution for the mistreatment of blacks during slavery. They said a letter found during the investigation contained racial slurs and statements justifying revenge against whites.

But at the trial, there was little mention of race. The victim's family and Gardner's attorneys don't think the killing really had anything to do with racial revenge.

"We have found over the years people will use the most convenient excuse that they can find for their actions if they get caught," McLauchlin said. "In this case, the excuse was 400 years of persecution."

Tim Kulp, the court-appointed defense attorney for Gardner, agrees.

"I don't think there was any specific intention of trolling for a white girl," said Kulp. "I think they were just out doing drugs, cruising around and she was at the worst place at the worst time."

Gardner, a Detroit native, was 1 of 5 men convicted in the McLauchlin case and the only one sentenced to death. He went AWOL from his Charleston-based Navy ship and was on the FBI's Most Wanted List before his arrest in Philadelphia almost 2 years later.

Prosecutors said several defendants saw Missi McLauchlin, who was living in North Charleston, walking along a road near her home on Dec. 30, 1992. The men offered her drugs in exchange for sex and 5 men later raped her at gunpoint at a mobile home, authorities said. They then made her bathe, bound and blindfolded her and forced onto the floor of a car.

Gardner shot McLauchlin twice when she managed to free herself from the handcuffs and then 3 more times by the side of a road near Summerville where her body was left, authorities said. After the slaying, the McLauchlins, who then lived in Michigan, went to the media urging calm in both Detroit and in South Carolina amid reports the slaying was racially motivated.

"There were 2 things then," McLauchlin recalled, "We definitely felt that way and we didn't want anybody hurt and 2, if the law enforcement people are running around trying to quell riots ... they are not going to be looking for the guy who shot her."

During Gardner's trial, co-defendant Matthew Carl Mack, sentenced to life for his part in the crime, said the defendants spent the hours before the slaying watching pornographic movies as well as movies showing real executions and deaths.

They also watched a recap of the Rodney King beating story, he said.

Mack testified Gardner commented at the time, "That's 400 years of oppression. That's why that could happen." He also testified Gardner said he would kill a police officer if he had been the one who had been beaten.

Another defendant got a life sentence; 2 others who raped the victim received less than 10 years in prison as a result of plea deals.

Gardner will be the 40th person executed in South Carolina since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, and the 3rd inmate put to death in the state this year.

(source: Associated Press)

South Carolina: Lawyer says: Race played no role in murder

The Nov. 18 article, "Execution date set in racial killing," perpetuates a myth that began before Joseph Gardner was ever tried for the murder of Melissa McLaughlin, and has compromised the search for truth ever since. The senseless and undeniably tragic homicide of Ms. McLaughlin was not a "racial killing" when it occurred. It was a terrible and unnecessary end to an evening of impulsive and deplorable conduct by a number of people, including Mr. Gardner, but it had nothing to do with race.

The case started to become a "racial killing" when a co-defendant signed a highly embellished statement to that effect, written by his interrogators in Michigan, after many hours of pressure to do so. It progressed toward a "racial killing" when prosecutors sought to bolster their chance for a conviction and death sentence by feeding reporters characterizations of the co-defendant's statement designed to exploit racial divisions in the community. And it fully matured into a "racial killing" when reporters embraced what they had been fed and turned it into a sensation through literally hundreds of stories in newspapers and on television.

Those same characterizations reappeared in the Nov. 18 article, which referenced "what prosecutors described as (Mr. Gardner’s) revenge for centuries of oppression against blacks," and prosecutors' citation of "a letter found by investigators that contained racial slurs and passages aimed at justifying revenge against whites."

But when the case went to trial — that is, when the prosecution was required to present real proof of its claims — evidence of a "racial killing" was conspicuously absent. Perhaps prosecutors refrained because they knew the claims were untrue. Or perhaps they had already gotten what they needed through the media coverage, with which 10 of the 12 jurors who decided Mr. Gardner's fate admitted their familiarity. Whatever the explanation, the indisputable fact is that the prosecution did not prove — indeed, did not even attempt to prove — that the homicide was a "racial killing."

Had the claims of a "racial killing" ended there, this newspaper might never have had occasion to announce the setting of Friday as Mr. Gardner's execution date. Unfortunately, we will never know. In a move so devoid of strategic benefit that even the notoriously conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit called it "constitutionally deficient," Mr. Gardner's own trial lawyer provided the jury with the statement written by the Michigan interrogators and signed by the co-defendant. As a result, the prosecution got the benefit of its pre-trial media theme without ever even having to prove it, and the jury got to pass judgment on the "racial killing" they had read about and seen on TV.

In the years that followed, the hollowness of the "racial killing" story was revealed. The co-defendant whose signature had started it all testified under oath and without contradiction that the claims of racial hatred in the statement he signed were not true, and that he would have said so at Mr. Gardner's trial if anyone had bothered to ask. Other aspects upon which the prosecution had relied to make the case appear more aggravated than it was were deconstructed and disproved. And the mishandling of Mr. Gardner's defense was revealed so starkly that even the federal court of appeals acknowledged it. By the time these facts came to light, however, the producers and consumers of the "racial killing" story had long since stopped paying attention.

Now that Mr. Gardner’s pending execution has revived the newsworthiness of his case, it is disappointing — but hardly surprising — to see the "racial killing" headline dusted off and printed once again. In some ways, perhaps it no longer matters; headline or no headline, Mr. Gardner's legal challenges to that part of the case are finished. But in other, more enduring ways it matters a great deal, because it implies that the story propagated through sound bites and repetition more than a decade ago was valid then and remains valid today.

As anyone willing to examine the more than 10,000 pages of testimony and documents would surely discover, it wasn't, and it doesn't. The purveyors of the story may not have known any better when they originally inflamed the community's fears and biases, and in the process diminished Mr. Gardner's chance at a fair trial and sentence. But they should know better now. This time around, the appeal to fear and bias diminishes the rest of us.

Some will say that Mr. Gardner will get what he deserves Friday. That is debatable. What is not debatable is that the “racial killing” myth that has for so long distorted perceptions of his case by capitalizing on racial division deserves, at long last, to be put to rest.

Mr. Weyble, who directs death penalty litigation at the Cornell Law School Death Penalty Project, is Mr. Gardner's appellate attorney.

(source: Opinion, Keir Weyble; The State)

State killing in the name of SC's citizens scheduled for today - please call or FAX SC Governor's office today

Cruel and Unusual: "We Don't Want Any Other Mothers To Go Through This"

Cruel and Unusual: Serving a Death Sentence in a Prison Hospital
By Liliana Segura

Montell Johnson is a 42-year-old man who spends every hour of every day in a hospital bed. He can't move, and he can't talk. He eats through a feeding tube inserted into his stomach. Years of inactivity have taken their toll: "He has no body tissue or muscle now," his mother, Gloria, says. "He's very sensitive to touch, and so it's excruciating pain when you touch his body … There's nothing really there to protect him." He weighs 70 lbs.

Johnson suffers from multiple sclerosis, a chronic and debilitating illness that attacks the central nervous system and erodes a person's capacity for basic functions. He is in the final stages of MS and is suffering from a long list of related and other ailments, including hepatitis C, which threatens to take his life. Just over a year ago, a doctor gave Johnson less than six months to live. That he has defied the prognosis is undoubtedly due to the dedicated care of his mother, rather than the quality of his medical care, because Johnson is not at a hospital. He is a prisoner at Sheridan Correctional Center, in La Salle County, Ill.

Five days a week, Gloria Johnson-Ester drives from her home on the South Side of Chicago to Sheridan, two hours away ("two-and-a-half to three in traffic"). Since her son was diagnosed with MS in 2001, she has seen his health deteriorate dramatically due to gross medical neglect by the Illinois prison system.

"Inmates aren't considered a priority," she says, "but I always tell people, they are human beings. … Whether they are guilty or innocent, when they get sick, you treat them."

Johnson was convicted of murder in 1999 and sent to death row. In 2003, his sentence was commuted to 40 years, and on Oct. 30, 2008, Gov. Rod Blagojevich commuted his sentence to time served. This means the state of Illinois has no legal basis for keeping him incarcerated. But now he faces a new challenge: the possibility of extradition to California for different charge. For Gloria, who has been fighting for years to bring her son home for the last months of his life, this would be an unthinkable defeat.

"I know one thing," she says. "If they take me away, then he'll just give up."

"An Easy Conviction"...(see link to full article below)

J..."Montell Was Not Cared For Properly"

Johnson-Ester's first run-in with the health care provided by Illinois' Department of Corrections was in 1999, when her son was awaiting trial in a Macon County jail. She had attended a wedding reception in Grand Rapids, Mich., when she received word from her mother that Jordan had fallen and been knocked unconscious. She drove to the Decatur, Ill., jail, only to be barred from visiting him. By the time she saw him, it was Tuesday. "I asked Montell what they gave him. He said, 'Tylenol.' "

In January 2001, Johnson was diagnosed with chronic progressive multiple sclerosis. By then, he was at Menard Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison that Johnson-Ester describes as "a death trap." As the illness took effect, he was transferred to different facilities, none of which were equipped to deal with his deteriorating health. Between 2001 and 2005, he was not seen by a neurologist.

By 2005, he could not stand, walk, bathe or dress himself. Despite this, he remained in the condemned unit at Menard, designated a "high escape risk." Eventually, he was transferred to Pontiac Correctional Center, where, in February 2006, he was diagnosed with dementia.

Finally, in April 2006, Johnson was transferred to Dixon Correctional Facility, supposedly, the best medical facility in the Illinois prison system.

"I'd been begging to put him there," Johnson-Ester recalled. "But that was his death sentence."

It was at Dixon that Johnson developed severe bedsores, which Gloria discovered in 2006. He had been complaining about being in pain. "When I rolled him over," recalls Gloria, "I saw the wounds."

Bed sores are preventable but serious injuries that can be life threatening if left untreated. According to the Mayo Clinic, "Bedsores, more accurately called pressure sores or pressure ulcers, are areas of damaged skin and tissue that develop when sustained pressure -- usually from a bed or wheelchair -- cuts off circulation to vulnerable parts of your body." For someone who is bedridden, bedsores can form anywhere, from one's lower back to the rims of one's ears. The key to avoiding them is to move a patient continually throughout the course of the day. Nutrition is also important. But Johnson was getting neither. The result was Stage Four bed sores, the most serious and advanced stage, "in which a large-scale loss of skin occurs, along with damage to muscle, bone and even supporting structures such as tendons and joints."

"Montell was not cared for properly by the Department of Corrections," says Pearson, the activist. "Really, they just couldn't take care of him. They were not equipped."

After Johnson-Ester saw the bedsores, she became much more vigilant about her son's care. In August 2007, she started a blog documenting her visits with him, detailing his condition, the state of his care and her many frustrating interactions with the prison warden and medical staff, who eventually discovered the blog and tried to get it taken down.

Johnson-Ester's early posts described the strange visiting area allocated to her and her son at Dixon, a "laundry room with a washing machine, dryer and dirty and clean linen."

8/29/07 -- Today I visited Montell. When I arrived at the infirmary Montell, was in the gerry chair, and he looked very uncomfortable. He tried to change his position from left to right. He was nonverbal and tears were streaming down his face. The washing machine and dyer was running and quite noisy, and this seemed to be irritating him. I asked him if anybody had done anything to him and he shook his head as to be saying "No." I asked him if he had received all his meals, he shook his head from side to side.

Subsequent entries chronicled the many times she was denied visiting privileges for seemingly arbitrary reasons, as well as Johnson's transfer, in the fall of 2007, from the correctional unit to a medical unit, where he nearly died. A post from Nov. 6, 2007 describes the day his feeding tube was put in. The next day, she wrote:

The rumor I heard yesterday became a reality today. Yes, Montell was going to be taken back to Dixon Correctional Center sometime today. I talked with Dr. Amissi Patel, and she stated that Montell was too weak to have any more surgeries and that they were releasing him. I told her that with the feeding tube in him they were just setting him up to die. He wouldn't have been in this condition in the first place if they had taken care of him. I spent most of the day trying to contact people to have them stop this move back to Dixon. Montell just laid in my arms and held my hand … I stayed until the ambulance people came to get him and helped dress him for the trip back to Dixon. I left before they did because I couldn't take seeing them take him back there, and I didn't want him to see the tears streaming down my face. Lord please help us.

The last post on the blog, dated Dec. 19, 2007, begins: "My visiting privileges revoked today because of my concern and expressions of Montell's health care."

"The Last Thing California Needs is Another Sick Prisoner"

Anyone familiar with California's prison system knows that it is the last state that should be taking on the care of another sick prisoner. The state has been besieged for years by reports that its bloated prison system -- which houses 170,000 people in facilities built for 100,000 -- is overwhelmed by the number of prisoners in need of health care, many of them elderly. In fact, California's prison medical facilities are currently under receivership, which Johnson's attorney Harold Hirshman explains, "means literally that a federal judge has appointed a person outside the prison system to run the delivery of medical care." The current receiver, J. Clark Kelso, has described California's medical facilities as being "in an abysmal state of disrepair." (The cost of repair, as reported this spring by the Los Angeles Times, "nearly triples the $2.5 billion the governor proposed for new medical facilities in his budget submitted to lawmakers in January.")

"The last thing California needs, given that it's under receivership for failing to provide constitutional minimum health care, is another sick prisoner to take care of," says Hirshman. Yet, he says, "logic doesn't seem to have much to do with any of these decisions. I believe that it is simply that he's a murderer in California, so they want to take him back."

"We Don't Want Any Other Mothers To Go Through This"...(condensed)

Hoyt, who first met Johnson-Ester at Johnson's trial, has felt a kinship with her from the start. "I couldn't help that, because any mother in that position -- she didn't do anything. Even if he had done it, there was something that just told me. … I just felt so bad for her."

Johnson-Ester approached Hoyt in the courtroom. "She said, 'I'm really sorry if my son did this. I don't think he is capable of this.' " The two got to know each other little by little. Today, says Johnson-Ester "she's like a sister to me."

"It's not just about Montell and Dorianne anymore," says Hoyt, "It's, 'oh my God, we don't want any other mothers to go through this.' "

© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

TCADP Annual Report

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Thursday, December 4, 2008

CONTACT: Kristin Houle, Executive Director

512-441-1808 (office); 202-494-3578 (cell), khoule@tcadp.org

Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Releases Report on
Death Penalty Developments in 2008

"Average" Number of Executions Carried Out in Record Time as New Death Sentences Reach Lowest Level in Texas in 30 Years

(Austin, Texas) - Today the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP) released its annual report on death penalty developments statewide, in advance of the December 7 anniversary of the resumption of executions in Texas in 1982. According to the report, Texas juries newly condemned nine individuals (eight men and one woman) to death in 2008, the lowest number of new death sentences since official reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. Juries also resentenced two people to death.

A de facto moratorium on executions nationwide existed from September 26, 2007 until April 16, 2008 while the U.S. Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of the lethal injection protocol used by the majority of death penalty states. On April 16, the Court ruled in Baze v. Rees that the current protocol used by Kentucky (and other states, including Texas) does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The decision lifted all stays in effect at the time and paved the way for the resumption of executions. Texas' first execution of the year took place on June 11, 2008, when Karl Chamberlain was put to death. The State went on to execute 17 more people in the latter half of 2008, accounting for 50% of all executions in the United States this year. Seven of those executed had been convicted in Dallas County.

"2008 can only be characterized as yet another rollercoaster year for the death penalty in Texas," said TCADP Executive Director Kristin Houle. "The state carried out a 'typical' number of executions in a record amount of time - averaging nearly one per week over a five-month period. Yet officials' zeal for executions was not matched by public desire for new death sentences, as evidenced by the continued steep decline in the number of new inmates arriving on death row."

This past year also was notable for the executions that did not occur. Six inmates with execution dates in 2008 received last-minute stays, due to concerns about possible innocence, the fairness of their trial, or issues related to mental retardation or mental illness. The case of Charles Hood, in particular, challenged the integrity of the Texas judicial system, after solid evidence confirmed that the judge who presided over his original trial was romantically linked to the prosecutor who sought his death sentence. Hood received a stay from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on September 9 on an issue unrelated to the improper relationship; his attorneys continue to seek a new trial.

Other highlights of TCADP's report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2008, include the following:
* In 2008, the State of Texas carried out 18 executions in 5 months. Only eight other states carried out executions this year; none executed more than four people. Texas has executed 423 people since 1982. Currently there are 354 inmates on death row in Texas - 344 men and 10 women.
* Michael Blair became the 9th inmate exonerated from death row in Texas after DNA testing failed to connect him to the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.
* Seven other inmates were removed permanently from death row in 2008; their sentences were commuted to life in prison. This includes Thomas Miller-El, Johnny Paul Penry, and LaRoyce Smith, whose convictions and/or death sentences had been overturned at various junctures by the U.S. Supreme Court.
* Jurors rejected the death penalty in at least four capital murder trials in 2008, opting instead for the punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
* Harris County, which accounts for more executions than any state in the country (besides Texas), did not send a single person to death row in 2008.
* Texas defied federal officials and the International Court of Justice when it executed Mexican national Jose Medellin on August 5, 2008, despite the fact that he had been denied the right to contact his consular office upon his arrest in 1993 as afforded by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
* The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana on June 25, 2008 invalidated the death penalty provision of "Jessica's Law," which the Texas Legislature passed in 2007. The Justices ruled 5-4 that the death penalty is unconstitutional as a punishment for the crime of raping a child and they effectively barred its imposition for any crime that does not take the life of the victim.

Texas already has scheduled 11 executions for the first 3 months of 2009. "Despite continued concerns about the flaws and failures of the Texas death penalty system - and growing public awareness of its fallibility - the 'conveyor belt to death' continues to operate on high gear," said Houle. "TCADP urges all elected officials to take a hard look at this costly, broken government system - a system that produces wrongful convictions and most likely wrongful executions - and to support alternatives that protect society and punish the truly guilty."

TCADP is a statewide, grassroots organization based in Austin, Texas.

Contact Kristin Houle at khoule@tcadp.org to receive a copy (of the full report) directly via email.

Please help us track media coverage of the report in your area! Send any articles, news briefs, etc. that appear in your local newspaper (either in print or online) to khoule@tcadp.org. Letters to the editor based on the information in the report and online comments in response to articles are also encouraged. Contact Kristin if you have any questions or would like to receive talking points. Thank you!

TCADP 2009 Annual Conference

Raising our Voices for Abolition, Saturday, February 21, Austin, TX

Keynote Speaker: Celeste Fitzgerald of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Mark on your calendar and plan to attend. Support the work of your local chapter and the state organization of TCADP by attending the annual conference and learning more about ending the death penalty in Texas...

Become a member of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and support the education and advocacy work we are doing to end the death penalty in Texas. Your support is vital. Join!

Your membership supports our many educational opportunities working to end the death penalty in Texas: the mental illness and the death penalty campaign, religious outreach, "At the Death House Door" film screenings, and more. You also receive a quarterly newsletter that keeps you up to date on what is happening on the death penalty in Texas. We appreciate your generosity!
For more information on TCADP's activities consult the TCADP website at
Here or call us in Austin at 512 441-1808!

Our postal address is
2709 S Lamar
Suite 109
Austin, Texas 78704
United States