Monday, June 30, 2008

California Death Row is a Multi-Million Dollar Failure

It’s Official — Now What? A panel of experts, including 10 law enforcement officers and prosecutors, unanimously agrees that California’s death penalty is utterly broken. To fix it, we’ll need to spend over $200 million per year. The current failed system already costs over $137 million more each year than our alternative of permanent imprisonment. Today’s report forces all Californians to ask: how much we are willing to pay for our death penalty when we have an alternative that punishes criminals and protects our communities without making us bankrupt?

(Please go to the death pen blog at ACLU's website for the report/video...)


Death Penalty: An Open Forum by Nancy Oliveira Monday, June 30, 2008
California's Death Row--long excerpt from her article.

The best-kept secret in California is the real cost of the death penalty system...

...for some reason, the state's coffers seem to be wide open when it comes to carrying out the death penalty in California. Most people think we save money with executions - that it is cheaper to execute prisoners than to lock them up until they die of old age, illness or injury.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

We spend an estimated $117.35 million annually to keep the death penalty on the books in California when we have an alternative: permanent imprisonment. This sentence costs far less - about $23 million a year - and is a severe, swift and certain punishment. It allows the victims' families to move on with their lives, knowing that the convicted murderer will never be free and society will be safe.

Capital cases are expensive because they are so complex; they require more lawyers, more experts, an extensive jury selection process, and two trials (one to determine guilt and one for sentencing) - all constitutionally required to help prevent the conviction and execution of the innocent.

Conversely, executing those on Death Row (673), or waiting for them to die of other causes, will cost California an estimated $4 billion more than if they had been sentenced to permanent imprisonment.

Every tax dollar spent on executions is a tax dollar not available for education. Why are we willing to spend so much money trying to kill prisoners and not on the education of our children? What could $117.35 million dollars a year buy for our public schools?

The real cost of the death penalty is what we sacrifice for it. Perhaps we should join all the other Western democracies that have abolished capital punishment and put our tax dollars to better use.

Nancy Oliveira has been a resident of San Francisco for 35 years. She also serves on the Board of Death Penalty Focus.

San Francisco

Be sure to go to the poll and vote at the opinion section



California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
870 Market St. Ste. 859 San Francisco, CA 94102
Tel. 415.262.0082 - Fax 415.243.0994 - California Crime Victims

For Immediate Release
June 30, 2008

For more information contact:
Aarti Kelapure, 415.262.0082

Survivors of Murder Victims Applaud Report on California's Death Penalty

Commission Report Highlights Many Problems with California's Death Penalty and Encourages Californians to Consider Alternatives

Sacramento-The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice issued the state's first comprehensive report on California's death penalty today. The 116 page report identifies many problems with the state's death penalty, concluding that it is "dysfunctional" and quoting the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court who said the system may "fall of its own weight" if nothing is done.

During a series of hearings around the state, the Commission heard from a growing segment of advocates who oppose the death penalty: family members of murder victims whose personal experiences with the system have lead them to become ardent, outspoken advocates for alternatives to the death penalty.

Fifteen survivors of murder victims opposed to the death penalty testified at the Commission's three public hearings in Sacramento, Los Angeles and Santa Clara. These witnesses, who are active with the coalition California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (CCV), are also available for comment this week.

Many CCV family members told the Commission that funds now spent on the death penalty would be better used helping victims, solving unsolved murders, and preventing violence. Others emphasized the negative impact of the death penalty appeals process on survivors of murder victims.

Witnesses included (find some of these folk on the Journey of Hope website):

* Nick and Amanda Wilcox (Grass Valley), who testified on the anniversary of their daughter Amanda's murder. Amanda was working at a mental health clinic when she was killed by a patient. The Wilcoxes have become leading advocates for expanding treatment for the mentally ill to prevent violence.

* Barbara Zerbe Macnab (San Francisco), who testified that, despite her mother's pleas for clemency, two men were executed for the murder of her father when she was just eight years old, causing even more anguish to their family.

* Aba Gayle, who testified that, despite her requests, the Placer County District Attorney continues to pursue lengthy appeals seeking to reinstate the death sentence for the man who killed her daughter Catherine. At the time of the trial, Aba Gayle supported the death penalty. Ten years later, she realized that holding on to the anger and anticipating the execution would not help her heal.

* Vera Ramirez-Crutcher (Ventura), who testified about the anguish she experienced when her son David was murdered trying to protect his girlfriend, but who has always opposed the death penalty on religious grounds.

* Dawn Spears (San Jose), who became the primary caretaker of her three grandchildren when her daughter Tameca was murdered, testified that she is opposed to the death penalty, as was her daughter.

"I am pleased that the Commission reported noted the moving testimony of the people who have personal experience with the system," said Judy Kerr, spokesperson and victim liaison for California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (CCV). "Ours is an important voice in this debate." Family members of murder victims were instrumental in the persuading the New Jersey legislature to end the state's death penalty.

Aundré Herron, a former prosecutor who now represents people on death row and whose brother, Danny, was murdered remarked, "The death penalty does not help us heal; rather than honoring my brother, executing his killers would have forever tied his memory to an act of revenge."

"Californians should consider how we can best help the survivors of murder victims rebuild their lives and prevent more murders?" asked Kerr. "I believe the first step is to replace the death penalty with permanent imprisonment."

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cousin of the murder victim wants to save the life of Jeff Wood - please help!

Jeff Wood is waiting to die on Texas Death Row with an execution date of August 21st, 2008. Jeff was charged under the Law of Parties and was not the shooter in this crime. Jeff could not anticipate that a murder would occur. The actual shooter in this case has already been executed by the state of Texas.

The cousin of Kris Keeran (the murder victim) wants to save the life of Jeff Wood:
"My cousin was the person killed by Danny, not Jeff. I say this as a family member who realized long ago Jeff had no part in my cousin's murder and he shouldn't be executed. It's insane to kill another person who did not kill Kris. The video showed Jeff took no part in it. Jeff was one of my friends growing up and someone I think deserves a chance. If he didn't kill him, why should we kill Jeff? This is ridiculous." - Amanda Smith, Texas June 19, 2008

Please write the Governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles; and sign the online petition to stop the execution.

A short case summary of the case can also be found on the webpage to save Jeff's life.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Computer predicts who dies on death row: study

A computer program designed by U.S. researchers can predict with chilling accuracy the very few men among the thousands on America's death row who will actually be executed, according to a new study.

It says the chief factor that determines whether a man will die is neither race nor poverty but education - the less schooling, the higher the chances of a lethal outcome.

There are more than 3,200 men and women in U.S. prisons who have been condemned to death. Some have been on death row for decades, but only a relatively small percentage - 53 in 2006, for example - have been executed.

Previous studies have argued that non-whites are disproportionately sentenced to death in the United States. But with little research as to whether there is any bias in deciding who will actually die, critics say the choice seems arbitrary.

Stamos Karamouzis and Dee Wood Harper of Texas A&M University in Texarkana used a computing tool modelled after the human brain, called artificial neural networks (ANN), to search for patterns linked to executions.

They created profiles for 2000 death-row inmates - half of whom had been put to death - and entered them into the program. Each profile included information on race, sex, age number and type of capital offences, prior convictions, marital status, and level of schooling. The researchers then fed in 300 profiles of other inmates from the same period, and asked the neural network to predict what had happened to them. It correctly predicted the fates of more than 90 % of this 2nd group.

To find out which of the 18 factors best matched these outcomes, Karamouzis and Harper ran the analysis repeatedly, withholding one factor each time.

Being a woman, it turned out, was the best guarantee against having one's sentence carried out - women are rarely executed. But the next most telling indicator was the number of years an inmate had spent in high school.

"The results pose a serious challenge to the fairness of the administration of the death penalty,"
the pair write.

The paper is published in a British-based journal, International Journal of Law and Information Technology, and features in a report this week by the British magazine New Scientist.

(source: Agence France Presse)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The war on teen terror

The Bush administration's treatment of juvenile prisoners shipped to Guantánamo Bay defies logic as well as international law.
By Jo Becker, children's rights advocacy director - Human Rights Watch

When Mohammed Jawad took the stand in a courtroom at the U.S. Naval base here late last week, he described a litany of abuse he has endured while detained at Guantánamo, including a sleep deprivation regime known colloquially as the "frequent flyer" program.

"Day and night, they were shifting me from one room to another room," Jawad said. "I don't remember how much time I slept, but it was only a short time before they were knocking on my door and shifting me from place to place. No one answered me why they were giving me this punishment."

Military records showed that during a 14-day period in May 2004, Jawad was moved from cell to cell 112 times, usually left in one cell for less than three hours before being shackled and moved to another. Between midnight and 2 a.m. he was moved more frequently to ensure maximum disruption of sleep.

Such tactics used against a detainee would have been severe under any circumstances – Department of Defense guidance limits sleep deprivation to a maximum of four days – but in the case of Jawad, they are particularly disturbing because he was a scared and suicidal teenager at the time. (...)

According to government records obtained by the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act, more than 20 detainees under the age of 18 have been brought to the prison camp since 2002. The treatment of underage prisoners at Guantánamo, largely in defiance of international law, is one of various ways in which the Bush administration's policies have tainted prospects for Guantánamo detainees ever to be brought to justice under U.S. law.

Although most of the 20 juvenile detainees have now been released, three remain, having spent more than a quarter of their lives at Guantánamo. The other two juvenile detainees were each only 15 years old when they were apprehended. Mohammad El Gharani was arrested at a mosque in Pakistan and brought to Guantánamo in early 2002. Omar Khadr, a Canadian, was apprehended in July 2002 after a firefight in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of a U.S. soldier. Held for several months in Afghanistan, he was barely 16 when he arrived here later that same year.

The presence of juveniles at Guantánamo first came to light in 2003, when media reports revealed the age of the youngest detainee at Guantánamo – who was only 13 years old. (...)

That year, on behalf of Human Rights Watch, I had several meetings with Pentagon representatives to discuss the fate of these children. In early 2004, they were released to UNICEF in Afghanistan for rehabilitation. But whenever I tried to raise the case of Omar Khadr (we were unaware of El Gharani and Jawad's cases at the time) I received the same response: "Khadr is off the table; we will not discuss Khadr."

Unlike with the three boys held at Camp Iguana and released for rehabilitation, the Pentagon has never acknowledged the juvenile status of Khadr, Jawad or El Gharani. Although international law provides that anyone under 18 is a child and entitled to special treatment, the Defense Department created its own standard: Anyone who was 16 would automatically be treated as an adult. When I asked Defense Department officials in 2004 about the rationale for this policy, they had no reply. One official finally admitted to me that it was completely arbitrary. (...)

The Bush administration's refusal to treat these prisoners as juveniles has had profound consequences for Khadr, Jawad and El Gharani. They have had no access to education or recreation facilities and have been housed in the same facilities as adult detainees. After five years of imprisonment, Jawad remains functionally illiterate. None of the three have been allowed to see members of their family.

The effects of prolonged isolation have taken a severe toll. El Gharani has tried to commit suicide at least seven times. He has slit his wrist, run repeatedly into the sides of his cell and tried to hang himself. On several occasions he has been placed on suicide watch in a mental health unit.

Jawad also tried to commit suicide about 11 months after arriving in Guantánamo, by hanging himself by his shirt collar. Prison records also state that he "attempted self-harm by banging his head off of metal structures inside his cell."(...)

Please read complete article here

Virginia executes its 100th inmate


Virginia's 100th execution in modern times was carried out last night as Robert Stacy Yarbrough died by injection for the 1997 slaying of a country store owner.

Yarbrough, 30, was pronounced dead at the Greensville Correctional Center at 9:28 p.m. Asked if he had any last words, he said, "Tell my kids I love them. Let's get it over with. Make people happy," according to a prison spokesman. (...)

The execution took longer than normal. The curtain was closed at 9 p.m., blocking the view of witnesses, as the IV lines were inserted into his arms, a procedure that is usually performed in just a few minutes. Virginia Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Traylor said there was difficulty placing one of the IV lines. The curtain reopened at 9:17 p.m. and Yarbrough gave his last statement, and then the signal was given to start the chemicals.

According to court papers, it takes an average of 4½ minutes for an inmate to die after the chemicals start flowing. But in Yarbrough's case, the process appeared to take about 10 minutes.

Virginia is the second state to execute 100 people since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to resume in 1976. Texas, with 406 executions, leads the country.

The two states account for nearly half of all executions carried out across the U.S. since 1976. Virginia's 100th was marked by about 30 protesters holding a vigil in a field in front of the rural prison last night. At 9 p.m., the scheduled execution time, the protesters took turns ringing a bell for each person executed in Virginia. (...)

Please read complete article here

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

300 NC Clergy Endorse Racial Justice Act

RALEIGH—More than 300 North Carolina clergy members are calling on the NC General Assembly to pass a bill which would allow for court reviews of racial bias in death penalty cases.

Some of the clergy who signed the letter will release the letter to the public at a press conference at the Press Conference Room of the Legislative Building, 16 W. Jones St., in Raleigh at 11 a.m., Wednesday, June 25, 2008.

The letter calls for passage of the NC Racial Justice Act “out of a deep concern over the documented significant and persistent role that racial bias appears to play in deciding who is sentenced to die in North Carolina and who is not.”

The signers of the letter are mostly pastoral leaders of Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Episcopal, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and other faith communities in North Carolina, from the mountains to the coast.

The letter refers to “the widely reported and compelling evidence of how race affects the death penalty in our state.” The clergy call the bill “an indispensable tool in rooting out any role race plays in the death penalty system.”

The letter calls on “all citizens to demonstrate a strong commitment to fairness and justice by joining us in calling on the NC Senate to pass the Racial Justice Act as passed by the NC House in 2007.”

“Morally, we must act with clarity and caution in the practice of the death penalty. The NC Racial Justice Act offers a prudent and morally justifiable measure to improve our criminal justice system.

The clergy members also call on North Carolina prosecutors “to follow their mandate as agents of justice and support this important measure.”

A study by the University of North Carolina finds that a defendant charged with murdering a white person appears to be more than three times more likely to receive a death sentence in North Carolina than those with non-white victims.

The Racial Justice Act would allow a person accused of a capital crime the opportunity of a court review of whether race played a part in the prosecutor’s decision to seek the death penalty. If a defendant has already been sentenced to death, he may present evidence, if available, that his death sentence was improperly obtained on the basis of race.

The act would also allow a defendant to present statistical or other evidence to support such a claim. If a defendant succeeded in establishing his claim that race was a basis for his death sentence, the court could impose a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

The NC Racial Justice Act is currently assigned to the NC Senate Judiciary II Committee. Supporters of the bill hope the NC Senate will pass the bill in the next two or three weeks.

The letter was distributed to clergy by People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. PFADP is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Carrboro, NC.

Stephen Dear
Executive Director
People of Faith Against the Death Penalty

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

We must each do our part...

At speaking events, I frequently get appeals from concerned people who have loved ones on Death Row. Some of them have driven hundreds of miles to give me volumes of copies of the paperwork from the case.

They cry and implore me to help free their innocent death row denizen. Some of these people pull my heart out with their stories. I wish I could do more but all I can do is connect them with a anti-death-penalty group in the state in which they live or in which the inmate is incarcerated. In each of these cases I invariably find that there are already lawyers and local anti Death Penalty people working on the case . It is sad to see these people, in there desperation, looking for help. They hope that maybe a minister, death row exonoree, social worker or MFFM can find some magic way to accomplish what the lawyers and others cannot. Some are still in shock with the sudden realization that the United States justice system is flawed or corrupt. They now understand that their loved one will not be released because of a just system, but in spite of a unjust one, and it is going to take a lot of work. Some of these victims do not yet know the struggle that awaits them. How do we tell them that they will have to mortgage their homes, sell everything they have, and begin an indefinate struggle (the average is 11 years), dedicating all their free time to this Quest of exonoration and freedom.

I used to lay awake at night tossing and turning, trying to think of a way to help these teary eyed mothers, fathers, wives , girlfriends and relatives . I had to realize that I cannot do much more than make sure that they get in contact with the proper people to help them. I steer them in the right direction, check on them once in while for a follow up and then go on in my life speaking out and writing against the death penalty. It is what I do to do my part. I cannot be a lawyer, social worker minister, counselor, psychologist, or a shoulder to cry on. We have some wonderful people in our groups who can do these jobs, and we must let them do what they do. We must each do our part and try not to punish ourselves by feeling guilty about not doing more. We do what we are qualified to do. That is our part. No one is going to single handedly abolish the death penalty, but colectivly we can and will.

I realized a long time ago that I cannot carry the sorrows of all these people and still keep my sanity. At current count there are over three thousand people on the Row. Statistics have it that one out of ten will be murdered by the state. For every eight executions there will be one exonoration of an innocent man. Although no one can say for sure how many, some of the executed will be innocent. We know these things to be true.

All we can really do is to do our job with the same devotion and dilligence we have always demonstrated.

Ron Keine

Monday, June 23, 2008

Vodicka and "The Green Wall"

VODICKA, a former army veteran and correctional officer of 17 years was brought up by his parents to have integrity, ethics, and to always tell the truth. He said his dad told him on his last breath before he lapsed into a coma "me and Mom love you, believe in you, tell the truth. (Excerpt from the story below)

This amazing story sent by Bill Pelke takes place in "America's Salad Bowl" -- Salinas--in a prison. Salinas has been characterized by the lack of affordable housing, is located roughly eight miles from the Pacific Ocean and is the hometown of famed writer John Steinbeck. This Nobel prize laureate wrote -East of Eden- , -The Grapes of Wrath- , and -Of Mice and Men- as well as many other moving novels--some which became films. Photo below to right is of this famous Salinas' author.

Steinbeck often explored the struggles of those who were down-and-out or who felt abandoned. While he exposed the near-hopeless lives of the disenfranchised he also affirmed the strength of the human spirit. He was my favorite novelist all the way through high school and college. Maybe Steinbeck was the gateway into human rights & abolition for me? I wonder if Steinbeck would have turned this story into a novel? Note by Connie

A High Price to Pay for Integrity; Interview with Donald J. Vodicka
Blowing the Whistle on California's Department of Corrections and "The Green Wall" By Dee, published Jun 17, 2008

When a prison riot between inmates and guards broke out in a maximum security facility, Salinas Valley State prison in California on Thanksgiving Day in 1998, corrections officer Donald J.Vodicka's life would be changed forever. In an attempt to document evidence of injured inmates, Vodicka was behind the camera that day. What was normal standard procedure would be shunned on by a group of guards, and Vodicka was told by other guards to get rid of the photo's and evidence of injured inmates. To cover-up evidence.

Vodicka was up against a prison guard gang known as "The Green Wall." A gang of guards whose corruption would force Vodicka into becoming a "whistleblower." A gang like any other street or prison inmate gang, with a hand signal that flashed the letter W for "wall" and some bearing tattoos, and other signs that gangs have. Named "The Green Wall" for the color of the uniforms they wore. Vodicka stated that what began as 15 members had grown to over 400, of the 600 guards and officers in Salinas Valley prison. A gang who disregarded prison codes and procedures, and whose corruption was worse than some of the inmates they were paid to guard. Vodicka said they "bullied, and instilled fear and intimidation in the prisoners."

Vodicka's intentions were never to open up a can of worms, and he didn't intend to get any of his friends in trouble, but once that can of worms was opened, Vodicka exposed a corrupt prison system in what he thought was just between the guards, but soon find out the hard way that it was only the beginning. "Higher ups" and officers from Internal Affairs were also involved. Vodicka stated that when he went to the prison union about this matter "They wouldn't talk to me and walked away." He realized at that point the seriousness of the matter.

More here

See these at same above link, all by Dee:
Interview with Sherry Swiney, Founder of the Patrick Crusade
Texas Gives Execution Date to Man Who Never Pulled the Trigger
Interview with a Condemned Man: Charles Dean Hood

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why I Oppose the Death Penalty

By Delane Sims

As an African American women living in Oakland, whose brother was murdered, I strongly oppose the death penalty. More than anything, I want to live in a safe community—a community where my six sons and my daughter are able to pursue all of theirs dreams without fear of becoming another number in the city homicide count. We live with the consistent threat that - this time - it will be one of them and not a friend or classmate that will become another Oakland victim. While I love my city, this is simply a reality faced by people of color in Oakland each day. I believe a vital step to help end this tide of fear is to end the use of the death penalty.

Why the death penalty? The death penalty is very hurtful to the minority community in Alameda County and the entire state. One reason for this is due to the tremendous cost associated with the death penalty that is draining the county budget. Every death penalty trial costs local counties $1.1 million more than a trial ending in permanent imprisonment. Every person already on death row costs state tax payers hundreds of thousands.

In total, we are paying $139 million each and every year more, for a broken death penalty system, than we would pay for those individuals condemned to permanent imprisonment instead. And now we know that rebuilding death row at San Quentin will cost nearly $400 million, plus over $1 billion to operate the facility for 20 years. While we are spending all this money on people on death row most of them end up dying of natural causes before their long delayed sentences are carried out. At this time of fiscal crisis, when every state program is being cut, just imagine what that money could buy. For example, our children in Oakland could greatly benefit from more afterschool programs, playgrounds, and other activities that can lead them to a more productive life.

People of color, specifically African-Americans and Latinos, are much more likely to be victims of murder than our white neighbors. Yet, the death penalty is reserved almost exclusively for cases where the victim is white. A statewide study by Professors Michael Radelet and Glenn Pierce on race and the death penalty found people convicted of killing a white person are three times more likely to be sentenced to death than someone convicted of killing an African-American. If the victim is Latino, the disparity grows to four times. I don’t know what causes the disparity, but it may have a lot to do with the fact that homicides of people of color are less likely to be solved than homicides of white victims. In Alameda County, where I live, only 26% of homicides were solved in 2005. Given that we can keep those on death row from returning to the streets without executions, the millions spent on death row could be better spent for more detectives to solve the many cold cases. That could begin to make those in Oakland feel a bite more safe.

But perhaps more disturbing, at least to me, that same study found that counties that are predominately white are more likely to send people to death row than counties that are diverse. Death sentencing in California is based on geography, not on a structured, evenhanded formula. Only ten counties account for 85% of death sentences since 2000 and Alameda County is one of them. The vast majority of California counties rarely or never send anyone to death row.

We should also ask how many of the 670 people on death row are in fact innocent? Thank God for DNA testing and for those that have been exonerated in the past; but have mercy on those that did not escape the clutches of a broken and unfair system. DNA evidence is only available in a small number of cases. We will never know how many innocent people we have already executed in this country, let alone how many innocent people are growing old on death row all the while praying that someone will help them.

My hope is that more people will understand how unjust the death penalty is and will call for a halt to all death penalty trials. In the meantime, the money now spent on death penalty facilities, and all monies directed towards new death penalty cases should be funneled towards resources that will strengthen our communities. The best way to do that is through funding education. Fight Crime, Invest in Kids—a law enforcement organization—found that increasing California’s high school graduation rate by 10% would prevent 500 homicides per year. They found the impact would be greatest in schools that are predominantly African-American and Latino, schools were the majority of students now do not graduate. Educating our children is not only smart policy in and of itself, it is also the most effective violence prevention program we have.

Please don’t surmise that I don’t sympathize with all the families that are victims of murder, being one myself, I certainly care. However, I would not have wanted to relive my brother’s murder over and over again, trial after trial, as happens in death penalty cases. A discovery I made in the wake of my brothers murder is that hating or failing to forgive the perpetrator allows more than one grave to be dug. The stress, pain and hurt that could riddle my body and mind just does not serve me nor honor my brother’s memory. I feel that as long as the perpetrator is permanently locked away, they will serve time in hell here on earth. My heart is with each family that has ever had to face the devastating pain of losing a loved one to a senseless crime.

We are only as strong as our weakest link. Marginalizing communities based on the color of ones skin needs to become a thing of the past - ASAP. We will come closer to that goal if we replace the death penalty with permanent imprisonment and invest the money saved in educating all our children.

Delane Sims is the owner of a nail spa in Oakland but is a social justice activist at heart. She volunteers as chair of a senior group she founded in San Leandro, is a commissioner on Aging in Alameda County, a student at Berkeley City College and is now the Death Penalty Outreach Coordinator for the ACLU of Northern California.
Posted on June 20, 2008 at California Progress Report

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Witnessing an Execution; or signing up to be an executioner: You pick!

The death penalty in the United States fails to serve the American people. Capital Punishment in the United States (and around the world!) does not deliver any viable consequences. While its advocates claim that the Death Penalty is a successful deterrent, cost-effective, effective, unarbitrary and FAIR, those that oppose the death penalty realize that these arguments are simply ineffective when one looks at the amount of evidence that points to the contrary. Furthermore, we believe that the Death Penalty is an ultimate Human Rights violation, and the sanctioning of it brutalizes us all and cheapens the value of Human Life, leading to a perpetual cycle of violence. As long as the death penalty continues in the United States, we must recognize that its mere existence requires our complicity in state sponsored killing.

Whatever side of the fence someone is on and whether they like it or not, executions happen in our states and, as we can see from this summer's schedule, won't be going away too soon. But is that something that you would want to witness? On June 4th, Georgia put Curtis Osborne to death, despite Osborne's racist defense lawyer and reformed life in prison. AP writer Greg Bluestein was there to witness it, and wrote an incredibly eloquent article in which he recognized Osborne's humanity even as he was watching his death in a botched execution. You can read it here.

Testimony given by murder victim's families who have witnessed executions for closure have left them reeling over the violence inflicted on their loved one's killer. The emotional toll of watching someone die and being a witness to their death is definitely a memory, and not one that many would like to have. As the bumper sticker says, "Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?" Seems sort of like a twisted cycle and sick sense of justice, right?

A Florida DOC employee stated that any time an execution is looming, or a case is even being heard, the office receives a few dozen volunteers to play executioner. Medical and Nursing Ethics prohibit professionals from participating, so instead you can receive some state training, which is just as good! Here's the requirements for the state of Florida to be competent and experienced enough to execute: 1) Picked by warden. 2) Must be 18 or over. 3) Must get training. 4) Pay of $150. 5) Wear black hood (to prevent against retaliation and guard identity).

Sort of cheap for such a task for a public employee, right? But as Sue Carlton argues in an editorial, we don't need to hide his identity. After all, if they work for the state, shouldn't we know their identity, qualifications, and competency? Besides, with people VOLUNTEERING to EXECUTE, it doesn't seem like it would matter.


Taken from the Death Penalty blog of ai USA, June 17th, 2008

Friday, June 20, 2008

Virginia 100th Expected, NC/VA Walk, Annual Fast &Vigil

As we move into the weekend I want to call your attention to two matters:

#1 - Next week we expect Virginia will have its 100th execution. Please think about who you know and where you will be this weekend where you can ask people of like-minds to call Governor Kaine to ask him to stop the execution.

#2 - A group of abolitionists from North Carolina and Virginia are in the midst of their walk through Virginia to the U.S. Supreme Court. They entered Virginia today at about 2pm and will be proceeding up Rt. 301 all the way into Richmond , setting a pace of about 20 miles each day.

If you would like to offer hospitality as they move north, or join with them for an hour or a day or more, please call Scott Bass at 312-401-3713. Also, they are in need of someone willing to provide and drive a support vehicle on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday as they approach Richmond. If this is something you might consider, please call Scott at 312-401-3713.

This group will double back to be with us at the prison when we protest the execution on Wednesday, and they are on their way to the 15th Annual Fast & Vigil at the US Supreme Court. They are getting good local media coverage and meeting and organizing people all along the way. Again, if you can offer support, please do.

Have an excellent weekend, and we'll be in touch next week in advance of the 100th execution. From Betty Gallagher VADP

Darin on Darlie From The Journey Of Hope Website

Darin Routier's two sons were stabbed to death in their home in the Middle of the night while sleeping near their mother, Darlie Routier. Darlie was also seriously injured in the attack, suffering a seven-inch wound to her throat. according to Darin, significant Evidence of intruders was largely ignored by the police and prosecutors, and Darlie was convicted for the murder of her children and sentenced to death "based on innuendo and character assassination. "Darlie Routier has appealed her conviction and her immediate family, large extended family, and many others steadfastly support her efforts to prove her innocence. "Darlie's biggest fear is to die thinking that people believe she did this," Darin says. "Everybody who knows Darlie loves her. If they can do this to Darlie, they can do this to anyone."

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

Darin Routier Quotes:

"I lost my young sons Devon and Damon to murder, but it has been impossible to fully grieve their loss because my wife Darlie is on Death Row for the crime. Now I must face losing my soul mate as well, and my surviving son must face losing his mother. We are the victims, yet we will be made to suffer the most.

My wife is innocent. We can't get Devon and Damon back, but we can try to right the wrong that has been done to our family. The truth will set us free."

At this site also find an interesting news article "Maybe Darlie Didn't Do it"

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Darlie Routier: New Hope From the Row

Darlie Routier talks of new hope from death row

A Rowlett mother placed on death row for the murder of her 2 sons has expressed hope that new DNA tests will clear her name.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Wednesday that Darlie Routier, who has always claimed a home intruder was the true killer, will be allowed to re-conduct DNA testing on items from the scene of the crime...

...Routier said she hopes the DNA tests will find another source of blood, other than her's or her two sons'...Routier was convicted more than 10 years ago.

Talking from jail, Routier said that new technology will prove that she is not a killer.

"Well, do you have that much time?" said Routier when asked how so many people, and the justice system, could have been wrong in her case.

When Rowlett police arrested Routier in 1996, they were certain they had it right. The prosecution said Routier stabbed her children, Devon and Damon, and then stabbed herself to cover it up. The jury agreed.

"I was there," she said. "I know that I didn't murder my children. I know I did not attack myself."

Wednesday, a judge ruled Routier's legal team can take a fresh look at hair and blood evidence. All that will be tested is evidence that, at the time, could not be linked to anyone in the house.

"Everything that I've said is a truth," Routier said. "And it's right there. It's just a matter of a person taking the time to really look at

...The judge's ruling said the case against Routier is still strong. But if
new testing supports Routier's claim, it might be enough to sway a jury.

(source: WFAA News)


Mrs. Routier remains on the state's death row for women in Gatesville.


Timeline: Darlie Routier case

June 6, 1996: Routier brothers Damon, 5, and Devon, 6, are found stabbed to death in the family's Rowlett home. Darlie Routier, 26, has cut and stab wounds on her neck and upper body. Husband Darin Routier, 28, and son Drake, 8 months, are unharmed.

June 18, 1996: Mrs. Routier is arrested on capital murder charges.

February 1997: After a change of venue, jurors in Kerrville convict Mrs.Routier of capital murder and sentence her to death for killing Damon.

May 21, 2003: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upholds the conviction and sentence.

Dec. 1, 2004: The Court of Criminal Appeals denies a writ of habeas corpus.

Jan. 25, 2007: Dallas Judge Robert Francis denies Mrs. Routier's request for DNA testing.

June 18, 2008: The Court of Criminal Appeals overrules Judge Francis and grants limited DNA testing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

China's execution orphans

Behind glitz of Beijing Olympics China hides a shameful secret.. thousands of children robbed of parents by their brutal regime


(...)On August 8 the eyes of the world will be on China as it glories in celebrating the pinnacle of human achievement in the 29th Olympiad. But behind that ?2 billion spectacle lurks the hidden shame of man’s most callous inhumanity to man.

For China imposes the death penalty on more people than any other nation on earth—and then leaves the innocent victims left behind to rot.

A News of the World investigation has uncovered chilling evidence at Dhong Zou orphanage, 60 miles from the booming city of Xian, but a world away from all the hoohah of the Beijing games.

In the dusty courtyard, six-year-old Xieguntao digs his tiny fingers into the dry, grey earth as if trying to bury himself. Manic and restless, his hair matted and lice-infested, he rocks back and forward on his haunches.

Quietly, orphanage director Gou Gian Hou spells out the tragedy that brought the lad to this, revealing: “His father was caught felling timber on the land of a wealthy and influential businessman and was executed.

“His mother disappeared and the boy has been alone since he was three. Children are often just left behind at home when their parents are arrested. In remote areas they must fend for themselves. (...)

“There’s such a stigma attached to the children of the condemned that they’re IGNORED by entire communities. Some die, others migrate to the city and are abused or become enslaved in child labour.(...)

“But they’re forever branded with the curse of their parents’ crimes and execution. Often BOTH parents. They can never get good jobs or go to college. We have to fight to get them an education. In China you need papers and documents and it’s impossible to escape your past.”

And if their future is bleak, the brutal manner of their parents’ death means their past is tainted too.(...)

“It’s common for the relatives NOT to be told when their loved ones are executed. They’re given no last visit, they just turn up at the prison and find it’s all over. We fear this will be the case with Hou’s mum, but what can we do to prepare the child?

“She asks to visit her every week. Her father is long gone and her future is bleak. Nobody will offer a job to the daughter of an executed woman.”

Here in the Xian orphanage there are 40 other cursed children like Hou, with parents either executed or damned on death row. It’s a picture repeated across the country thousands of times over.

And unless the rest of the world forces the Beijing government to clean up its act on human rights the numbers will continue to grow.

China still has the death penalty for SIXTY-EIGHT different crimes—from the heavy-duty murder and rape right down to VAT receipt fiddles, habitual theft, porn publishing, dealing in counterfeit money, backhanders, profiteering and killing pandas.

During our investigation we discovered men and women on death row for an unbelievable range of minor offences including communications workers selling private phone numbers to businessmen and minor thefts in street markets.

According to Amnesty International an estimated 374 people will be executed in China DURING this summer’s Olympics.

Official statistics claim a total of 470 were put to death here last year. But many campaigners are convinced the true figure is as high as 10,000.

Amnesty’s UK director Kate Allen said: “In this Olympic year China gets the gold medal for global executions.”(...)

Sitting apart from the rest, Li Na clutches a tear-jerking photo, the main picture on these pages. It was taken only moments before her father, a robber, was dragged off by the Chinese authorities to be killed. The picture shows Li Na and her brother clutching onto their dad’s arm in desperation. But the defeat clearly visible in Li Na’s face shows knowledge beyond her 13 years.

“This is the last thing I saw of my father,” she tells us. “He had his head shaved and he smelled funny. He was sobbing like a child and could barely lift his head.

“Some of the children here don’t know what’s happened to their parents. I’d prefer if that was the case with me, too. My dad fought them as we left the room, he tried to get to us through the glass. This is the memory I have to bear.”

As she talks, Li Na walks to the window and points to the fence surrounding the orphanage.

“That’s to stop the local villagers from getting to us,” she says sadly. “They see us as cursed and evil.

“But our parents’ lives are NOT ours. I don’t understand why they shout through the fence and spit at us as in the street. It makes me realise we all have no hope.”(...)

Human rights activists fear the increase in lethal injections, which is inevitably followed by the harvesting of the victim’s organs, is boosting the country’s growing market for transplants. It is known that Chinese prison authorities have been trading in the organs of executed prisoners for two decades. So the mobile death vans can only fuel the grisly market, ensuring fresher tissue and more sterile facilities.(...)

Back at the orphanage Hou Yu Li Hang, 13 recalls how his mother suffered a similar fate. “I can’t remember my dad,” he says. “He left when I was young.

“My mother was executed for robbery but I remember how she used to buy me presents. She once got me a kite and I think of her watching me play with it in the street outside our house.”(...)

“I WILL go to Beijing and become an actor. And I’ll become the first child of an executed mother to be famous, to rise to the top and make people realise we CAN have a life after what happened to us.”

Please click here to read complete article.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Journey of Hope turns 15!

15 years ago, from June 4th until June 20th, 1993 the very first Journey of Hope travelled through Indiana. In the 15 years since then, the stories told of the members of the Journey of Hope reached thousands of people and changed some of their lives tremendously.

Looking at the articles about this first Journey of Hope shows a bit of the great success on that first journey and a taste of what can be done.

Today - 15 years after this first journey - The Journey of Hope ... from violence to healing" still lives up to it's name!

To give you an idea here is an article from the first journey:

A Life or Death Concern

Families of Murder Victims Voice Views on Death Penalty
Andrews: “Violence Will Beget Violence”

By Tom Price, Truth Staff

Elkhart – When Ruth Andrews thinks back on her teen-age years, she envisions herself as a fairy-tale princess, living in a castle and preparing to inherit her crown. Then, evil enters the story.

“The princess, due to inherit the castle, was forced into the woods, and the queen has been murdered,” she said. “The princess’ mother appears to her in a dream and tells her to go on a journey.”

“How can I go on a journey?” the princess responds. “I don’t have any provisions and I don’t have any protection.”

“All provisions eventually run out, and there is no protection,” the queen responds, telling the princess to trust the woods.

Andrews found herself in just that situation when her mother, Helen Klassen, was murdered March 14, 1969, in their Dunlap-area home. But 24 years later, she will embark on a Journey of Hope today with about 100 other death penalty abolitionists.

The participants, who have come to believe that capital punishment offers no protection for society including many members of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation. Despite the murder of their won flesh and blood, they still oppose the execution of those responsible.

“I believe that violence begets violence,” said Andrews, who was a pacifist at a young age before her mother’s murder and found that her beliefs weathered her personal storm. “The opposite is also true: Love and forgiveness will have that same ripple effect. There will be more opportunities for love and forgiveness.

When the Journey of Hope comes to Elkhart Country on Wednesday, people such as Andrews, Roy Umble and Samuel and Lillian Yoder will speak at public events.

Umble, a retired Goshen College professor of theater, received word July 17, 1980, that his favorite aunt, 83 year-old Fern Umble, was murdered two weeks earlier in Florida by a man she treated as a son. It took Florida police that long to identify the body of the 1921 Goshen College graduate, which was wrapped in a bloodstained quilt belonging to Umble’s grandmother.

The Yoders’ eldest son, 33-year-old Michael L, was shot to death July 19, 1986, in his Kalamazoo-area photography store when he intervened on behalf of a female employee, who was shot and killed by her former boyfriend in the same incident.

Each of the murders had different resolutions. Klassen’s murder remains unsolved. Umble’s killer sits on Florida’s death row. Yoder’s slayer is imprisoned for life in Jackson, Mich., one of 13 states without a death penalty.

“One killing doesn’t justify another,” said Samuel L. Yoder, a retired Goshen College professor of education, who frequently lectures about the local Old Order Amish community in which he was raised. “At the time, we expressed (to the prosecutor) that we looked unfavorably on the death penalty…. We didn’t think that would really solve anything.”

Umble had made the same plea to officials in the Florida case, but was told, “It is out of your hands. The state is taking over now. That does not concern you.”

After spending World War II as a conscientious objector in a Civilian Public Service camp, Umble was used to advocating an unpopular belief. In fact, not all of his family members reached the same conclusion. But with the killer isolated from society, Umble could not agree with taking the life of another human being.

Last year, the United States executed 31 people – more than any nation but China, Iraq and the former Soviet Union. “We say we are a free, peace loving country. I don’t think our policies are getting us where we want,” said Andrews, who works as a mediator and sentencing consultant with state and local courts.

The Journey of Hope fits in closely with Andrews’ role as director of St. Joseph Country’s Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program, a job she concludes this month. Previously, she directed Elkhart’s Center for Community Justice, home of the world’s first VORP program.

“Part of the philosophy of VORP is that the people who are most directly involved are the people who are most qualified on how to respond to a crime,” she said.

Death penalty abolitionists cite several statistics. According to the FBI, murder rates are lower in states that have abolished the death penalty (5.1 murders per 100,000 people) than in states that use it (9.1). A Stanford Law Review study found 139 people mistakenly sentenced to death and 23 people executed between 1900 and 1985 for crimes they didn’t commit. Only 1 percent of all convicted murderers receive the death penalty; they usually represent not the most brutal murderers, but those who are poor, minorities or who have white victims.

“All the evidence suggests there is no way to carry out the death penalty fairly,” Andrews said, “Who is qualified to decide: I don’t think I am. Let the person who is without sin cast the first stone.”

“We don’t go around living our lives in anger and unforgiveness,” said Yoder, who feels as if he and his wife are able to forgive their son’s killer, although he has never asked them to do so. “It’s simply an area of life we have learned to live with.

But if Michael Yoder’s murder happened in Indiana, where the death penalty is in force, Yoder wonders whether that would be the case. “If it had happened in Indiana, it would probably be an ongoing case here, still festering,” he said. “To have that sort of thing alive and going on, it just keeps the issues, the hurt, the unsolved frustration going on and on and on.

Without some sort of resolution for family members of victims, the situation can be different.

After her mother’s murder, Andrews said the evil that interrupted her fairy-tale existence impacted her own life. “I was all the things I didn’t admire. I was reckless, cruel, I became ugly. That’s what happened to me. I could see it at the time,” she said. “I easily could have gotten worse than I got and could have gotten in serious trouble because of my lifestyle.”

After nine years of anger, Andrews became pregnant and, realizing the responsibility she faced for bringing a child into the world, began to emerge from her darkness. Another milestone came at an earlier meeting here that brought together families of murder victims and murderers.

On the spur of the moment, Andrews, asked a convicted murderer, who had a spiritual rebirth while serving his sentence, to pray for her. “It was a remarkable thing,” she said. “Just as my mother’s murderer changed my life, John’s prayer for me transformed my life.”

Monday, June 16, 2008

Jeff Wood and his family

Whenever I think of the families of men or women on death row there is this cold shiver running down my back: I don't even want to try to imagine how awful it must be for them to know that their loved one will get executed somewhen sooner or later, how desperate they must be when they learn that a person they dearly love has a date with the executioner!

When thinking of the death penalty, most people just think of the person on death row but they forget that these people have families and friends, too. And not only the condemned gets punished but this is torture for their families as well. Torture to absolutely innocent people. Is this really acceptable?

Jeff Wood has an execution date for 8/21/08. His family is fighting for his life. The following letter was written by his sister:


My name is Terri Been and I am a Texas republican who is AGAINST the death penalty. I am sorry to say that it was not always this way as I was raised to believe in the death penalty; BUT my views changed over 10 years ago when I was thrust unwillingly into the Texas Judicial system; at which time my eyes were opened to the complete injustice of our whole system.

See, I am the sister of a man wrongfully convicted under the law of parties in Texas. This man's name is Jeffery Wood and he is set to die on August 21st, 2008 for a murder he did NOT commit.

I am writing to you because I am feeling helpless, and I do not know what I can do.

Please click here to read the rest of the letter.

And can you imagine how Paige, Jeff's daughter, must feel? Here is a poem written by her:


I sit and wait
…And wonder.
I have been waiting my whole life
All the time wondering…
Is my daddy coming home?

Will I ever get to see him?
Touch him?
Hold his hand?
Or ever hug him tight?

Will I ever get to sit in his lap or
Talk to him face to face
Instead of through the pane of glass
That messes with my brain.

Sometimes at night
I find myself
Waiting by the door
Just hoping that this is all a bad dream
And he will simply
Walk through the door

I need for him to
Tuck me in
And ask me about my day,
Then read me a bedtime story
While my worries drift away;
Then say a little prayer for me,
My friends and family
Then all the other boys and girls who are hurting
Just like me.

I am daddy’s baby girl, and even though I am 14 years of age
I'm secretly still 3 years old
waiting for my daddy to come home.

Please click here to sign the petition for Jeff Wood

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Replacing Pain with Hope

Rami Elchanan

Replacing Pain with Hope

My name is Rami Elchanan. I am fifty-seven years old, a graphic designer and a 7th generation Jerusalemite. I am a Jew, I am an Israeli and before everything else - I am a human being.

My personal story begins and also ends on one particular day of the Jewish calendar - Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement): On Yom Kippur 33 years ago, in October 1973, I was a young reserve soldier finding myself all of a sudden in the midst of a terrible war. We set out in a company with 11 tanks and ended with only 3 tanks. There, in the Sinai sands, I lost some of my very best friends. I came out of this war a beaten and battered young man - An angry and embittered, cynical and furious young man. I was determined to cut myself off from any sort of involvement - political, social or anything else.

I was released from the army and built me a life: studies, family, career…
23 years ago, Yom Kippur evening, 1983 a sweet new babygirl was born in Hadassah Hospital, in Jerusalem. We named her Smadar.(It’s from the Bible the Song of Solomon, meaning “The Grape of Vine”) She was a very vivid, smiling, happy, full of life and active young girl who joined our calm, happy family…and so we lived complacently, my wife Nurit, my three sons and this princess, in a bubble that we built around ourselves…

Until about 9 years ago, when, on the 4th September 1997, this bubble of ours was smashed to smithereens… (Thousands of pieces?)...

Please read complete story here

Friday, June 13, 2008

Greg Wright - A plea from his wife

Photo of Connie and Greg Wright

My name is Connie Wright; I am Gregory Wright’s wife. I come to you today to convey the heartfelt gratitude that Greg & I both feel for the outpouring of support you have all shown by signing his petition in an attempt to save his life. I have responded to many in personal emails and would prefer to continue in that manner but the show of concern has been so great that I must now do so in this way.

As you all know Greg has been given an execution date of September 9th in spite of passing a polygraph examination and of being excluded from the jeans and murder weapon used to convict him by DNA testing; this has come as a great shock to us and we must now do all within our power to save his life. For this reason I come to you with the humble request for a personal letter requesting the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles grant clemency to stop this execution from taking place so that Greg has
a chance to further prove his innocence. The Board sent one of its members to interview Greg last week so things are moving quickly and my request is of a very urgent nature.

Our dear friend and supporter Peter Bellamy has done some research on how to write an effective clemency letter which I have listed below. [Please follow the link below]

Greg’s attorney has requested in the past that we forward all letters to him for submission with the clemency appeal but at this time I do not know when the appeal will be submitted so I ask that you please forward your letters to me and I will forward them on to him at the appropriate time. Greg has also requested I forward copies to him and I will be doing that as well.

I have already forwarded him a list of those who have signed the petition and I only wish I could in turn forward you all a photograph of the look on his face when he learned of this show of overwhelming support; I can’t express enough the emotion and gratitude we both feel and a simple thank you seems nowhere near enough.

For those choosing to write letters please send them to me via email so the Board will know they are genuine; for those able to scan letters with signatures please forward via email with your letter attached. All can be sent to me at You are also welcomed to send you letter via regular mail to:

Connie Wright
P.O. Box 484
Livingston, Texas 77351

With deepest respect and gratitude to you all,

Gregory & Connie Wright

Please follow this link to instructions on clemency letter!

Please find more information about Greg Wright and his case at

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A commuted sentence, and a life reborn

by Carol Marin, The Chicago Sun Times

Ten days ago, I took a trip I wouldn't have predicted. This is a story about a near-execution, a graduation and a decision by former Gov. Jim Edgar that has delivered unexpected consequences.

It's a story about rising up and reaching down

In January 1996, Guin Garcia, an inmate on Death Row at Dwight Correctional Center in Downstate Illinois, was on the verge of execution.

Months earlier, Garcia, a 36-year-old convicted double murderer, had dropped her court appeals, said she was done "begging for her life" and put the wheels in motion for her death by lethal injection. It would mark the first execution of a woman in the U.S. in two decades. It became an international story.

Garcia's biography wasn't pretty.

At age 2, she saw her mother jump out a window and die.

Her father split. She was reared by grandparents and an uncle. The uncle began raping her when she was 7, giving her alcohol to calm her and shut her up.

Family members confirm the grandmother knew but did nothing.

By 16, she was an alcoholic and a prostitute. By 17, she was married and pregnant.

Her baby, Sara, was not yet 1 when she suffocated her with a plastic dry cleaning bag rather than face the prospect of DCFS taking Sara away to live with the grandmother and the pedophile uncle.

She confessed, went to prison for 10 years, married one of her tricks, an older man named George Garcia, who once, according to Supreme Court records, genitally mutilated her with a broken bottle.

Drunk one night, she shot and killed George.

Her sorrow over Sara is something Guin Garcia lives with every day. She is not sorry about George.

Fourteen hours before her scheduled execution in 1996, Gov. Edgar, who had signed off on the executions of four men, suddenly stopped the wheels from turning on this one. For a Republican who supported the death penalty, it was not an easy decision. Edgar commuted her sentence to natural life.

Last week, I went back to the prison at Dwight. With a 3.95 "A" average, Garcia was graduating magna cum laude from Lake Land College.

Dressed in caps and gowns, marching to "Pomp and Circumstance," 57 other women received GEDs and certificates in computer technology, commercial cooking, dog training and business management.

Friends and family filled the prison gym. Small children were in their Sunday best, waving to their mothers. There aren't many happy days in prison, said Warden Mary Sigler. This was one.

As one of the inmates rose to claim her diploma, a young man in a back row proudly cried out, "That's my Mom!"

Garcia was last to be called up, the only one that day to accept a college degree, an associate in liberal studies.

You might be asking, what's the point? Why waste tax dollars on a lifer? There's an answer.

It's what Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anna Quindlen calls "Rising up, reaching down."

Graduates I talked to that day, including one who is 28 and has been locked up since she was 15, told me the reason she earned her GED last year and got a certificate in professional dog grooming this year was that Garcia, whom younger inmates call "Granny," demanded that she straighten up and fly right.

Garcia's quest for education helped motivate hers.

That young woman -- a slight, pretty African American -- will get out in two years better prepared to go forward because Guin Garcia, in life's depths, somehow found it in herself to rise up and reach down.

Today, Garcia is 49, with no illusions about getting out. And yet, thanks to a decision by a pro-death penalty governor to spare one life, new life has been given.

Rise up. Reach down.

It can happen anywhere.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Beam me up, Scotty!

What’s the most famous quote from “Star Trek?”

If you were thinking, “Beam me up, Scotty,” you’re like most people. The problem is, that line was never uttered by Captain Kirk, or any other cast member. But, perhaps due to slogans on T-shirts or bumper stickers, people perceive that to be the most memorable quote.

Perception and memory do not always mirror reality, says Prof. Keith A. Findley, of the Innocence Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School. He offered the “Star Trek” example at the State Bar of Wisconsin Annual Convention in Madison, to educate about the dangers of excessive reliance upon eyewitness identifications.(...)

Findley cited a 1999 study that found that approximately 75,000 people become criminal defendants every year, largely on the basis of eyewitness identifications. Moreover, looking just at the cases of the 216 persons who’ve been exonerated of crimes by postconviction DNA testing alone from the work of Innocence Projects across the nation, the eyewitness identification played a role in almost 80 percent of these wrongful convictions.

Wrongful Convictions

No one can really know how many innocent people are in prisons, he observed. But one compelling estimate comes from a 2004 study from Virginia, which randomly selected 31 prisoners convicted of sexual assault for DNA testing and found that two were innocent.
“If that holds up across the board, and we don’t known that it would, that would be about a 6 percent error rate, and significantly, both of those cases involved eyewitness error. It’s a serious problem in the criminal justice system,” Findley said. (...)

The people making these misidentifications are not ill-motived; “These are not people who are liars, who are intentionally committing perjury; they are people who honestly believe in their eyewitness identifications, and they’re just flat wrong about them,” Findley said.(...)

Please read the complete article in the Wisconsin Law Journal

Fighting the Frontlines in New Mexico

June 14th
Rally at Civic Plaza Downtown Albuquerque
12 noon, Concert at The Stove (Central & MorningSide)

June 15th, 10am
Walk and Protest at State Capital and Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe

Capital-“X” will be joined at these events by other abolitionists and activists from New Mexico, as well as prisoners’ families and friends

Monday, June 09, 2008

Unabomber's brother, victim forge unique friendship

(...) It was [David] Kaczynski's brother, Ted, who tried to kill [Gary] Wright with a bomb outside his Utah office in 1987. The blast sent him flying through the air, and more than 200 pieces of shrapnel tore into his body, some shards severing nerves in his left arm.

But David Kaczynski [right] and Wright [left] have forged the type of bond that has taken them canoeing in the Adirondacks together and touring the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. They also travel the nation for speaking engagements about pain and reconciliation.

"He helped me see that I could reconnect," Kaczynski said. "There was hope that things would get better and not worse. Gary was, in some sense, my psychological lifeline through this terrible ordeal." (...)

Wright was the Unabomber's 11th victim.(...)

When (David) Kaczynski and Wright finally spoke by phone, Kaczynski offered his apologies and then braced himself for Wright to lash out in anger.

"It's not your fault," Wright recalls telling Kaczynski. "You really don't have to carry that [burden]." (...)

The two men didn't know it at the time, but it was the beginning of their unlikely friendship.(...)

"I have learned things that no other victim of these set of crimes will ever know, and it's because of that relationship," Wright said. "There's more knowing you have a good family that raised this person [Ted] and that one person inside the family doesn't define the whole family."

They say that after their initial conversation, the phone calls became more frequent. Their families soon met. In fact, Wright traveled to New York and met David Kaczynski's mother and sat down in her living room, thumbing through family photo albums, looking at the childhood pictures and hearing stories of the boy who would become the Unabomber, the very man who tried to kill him.

"I've been able to see things, see photos that were outside of the norm," Wright said. "See a family that was a family unit before something went wrong."

In 1999, Wright and Kaczynski started traveling the country together telling their story. Thousands of miles on the road have developed a brotherhood born of tragedy. They admit their relationship is unique.

"There is a lot of pain for me with the word 'brother,' a lot of emotion," Kaczynski said. "But I see Gary as my brother."

Wright added, "I don't take that lightly, either. I don't use that word, 'brother,' lightly."

Kaczynski says Wright has not replaced Ted as his older brother, but Wright has clearly filled in.(...)

Story taken from Please follow link to read the complete article.

Additional Note: David and Gary were both on the 2005 Texas Journey of Hope

Sunday, June 08, 2008

" I run for the presidency because I want the United States of America to stand for hope"

40 Years ago this weekend in 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

Just two month before his own murder, Bobby Kennedy had to announce the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. During his speach he said:

"...Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justic for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort.

In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black -- considering the evidence their evidently is that there were white people who were responsible -- you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization -- black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.

Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love...."

And his brother, Senator Edward Kennedy said on his assassination by Sirhan Sirhan: "My brother was a man of love and sentiment and compassion. He would not have wanted his death to be cause for the taking of another life."

Today the reminscence of Robert F. Kennedy still stands for values such as change for the better, hope, integrity, compassion and forgiveness.

"Some men see things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?" - Robert F. Kennedy paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw

Robert F. Kennedy believed so strongly in the possibility of ending injustice and changing the world that he made it a cornerstone of his 1968 Presidential campaign.

The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial founded by his family and friends as a living memorial in 1968, carries on this legacy of hope and change through programs aimed at tackling the toughest problems we face as a global society.

And R.F. Kennedy is present in politics even today - an extract from Weekend America's "RFK's Enduring Message of Hope"

Roemer: There were many times that I thought of Senator Kennedy -- what he would do, what example he provided. One of the Kennedy legacies was the Peace Corps, and later in my Congressional efforts I helped start the AmeriCorps program. And so Bobby Kennedy, John Kennedy's policy ideas continued inspire me as a member of Congress... and it lives on today.

(archival tape): We want Bobby! We want Bobby!

Roemer: He is present in many ways -- you hear him in the words of one of the presidential candidates today.

Sen. Barack Obama: I know how hard change is.

Roemer: ...talking about building coalitions and unifying the country and talking about hope. I was actually in Fort Wayne, Ind., campaigning with Barack Obama. Of course, Senator Kennedy is still popular in Indiana. So when Senator Obama was working the rope line it was amazing to me, standing next to him, the number of people in 2008 that were handing Senator Obama pamphlets, literature, mail from Bobby Kennedy's campaign. And they wanted Senator Obama to sign something that Bobby Kennedy had given them 40 years earlier. It truly shows that Senator Kennedy will never be forgotten.

Personally I believe that it is good we get reminded on people like Robert F. Kennedy every so often - it gives us a chance to sit back and reflect on their values and on what these values can mean for our own lives. So let me finish this post with a quote from his "Day of Affirmation" Speech at theUniversity of Cape Town, South Africa:

"Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation ... It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

Saturday, June 07, 2008

United Methodist Church death penalty stance singles out Texas

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' stay of execution for a death row inmate on June 3 answered the prayers of many United Methodists keeping a close watch on the case.

Derrick Sonnier received his reprieve 90 minutes before he was scheduled to receive a lethal injection at 6 p.m. The convicted killer would have been the 406th person executed by the state and the first executed in Texas after The United Methodist Church called for an end to the death penalty in the state that leads the United States in executions. (...)

General Conference, the only body that can speak on behalf of The United Methodist Church, stated in its most recent resolution that there can be no assertion that human life can be taken humanely by the state. The assembly said the death penalty "will increase the acceptance of revenge in our society and will give official sanction to a climate of violence."

A new resolution singles out the state of Texas, expressing the church's "deepest appreciation to all those organizations and individuals in … Texas who have valiantly struggled and continue to struggle for a more humane society in which the death penalty is rare or non-existent." (...)

"I have lived in Texas all my life, and Texas puts to death more people than any other state," said McKee, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Hurst. "There are so many concerns about African Americans and Latinos being unfairly sentenced to death, and concerns about innocent people being executed that there should at the very least be a moratorium on all cases. Execution prevents the possibility of redemption and once it is carried out, it is final. If we find we made a mistake and convicted an innocent person, it is too late."

The resolution noted that Texas has executed more than 400 people since 1982, including six who were mentally retarded, 20 who suffered from mental illness and 13 who were juveniles when their crimes were committed.

Notice of the General Conference action was sent to the Texas Legislature, the Texas Pardon and Parole Board, Gov. Rick Perry, the Texas Conference of Churches and the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

The resolution also has been shared with other faith groups and has been helpful in starting conversations about a difficult subject, according to McCuistion.

"If you can't talk about the tough stuff in church, where can you talk about it?" she said. Executions just bring "more pain," said McCuistion, who has spoken with family members of both Sonnier and the victims in his case. (...)

Please read complete article here

Friday, June 06, 2008

Children of the Exonerated

by Vincent Pullara, Jr. (taken from the YP4 - Blog )

Every time a wrongfully convicted person is released from prison, we must wonder to ourselves what it must have been like to deal with such a tragedy. Imagine walking freely in the streets of America one day - doing as you please - only to be picked up and thrown in prison the next. Suddenly, you are expected to be sit for an eternity in a 8 x 8 x 12 prison cell, thinking about the horrors of a crime that you did not commit, a crime you know virtually nothing about. The unnecessary trials and tribulations of a wrongful conviction don't just bring a great deal of pain to the exoneree, but to the exoneree's family as well.

Imagining the life of a child of an exoneree is extremely troubling. America has already produced a whole generation of fatherless children. But when you relate the number of wrongful convictions in this country to the number of fatherless children, you start to wonder about another scary number--how big is the generation of fatherless children as a result of wrongful convictions?

What kind of effect does this have on their perception of the government? How does the child deal with the regular sights and sounds of prisons: barb-wired fences, metal detectors, speculative prison guards, watch-towers and other such things that many people have the privilege of not having to experience throughout their whole lifetime? Imagine the fact that you were in your mother's womb as the process of your father's wrongful conviction is taking place. You are essentially being born into a life of prison and incarceration.

That is the story of Dwayne Allen Dail's son, who was born the same year his father was convicted in North Carolina of a rape he didn't commit. Dail was exonerated by DNA testing in 2007, and released close to his son's 18th birthday. The Charlotte Observer had the following quote from Dail's son, then 18-year-old Chris Michaels. "He's missed my whole life. ... I missed him all the time growing up," Michaels said. "He's here now -- and that's all that matters."

Watch a video of Dail talking about losing precious years with his son here.
Watch Dail's son talk about his father's release here

Similar is the story of Luis Diaz's children. Diaz was exonerated by DNA testing in the summer of 2005 after spending almost 26 years in prison for the rapes of over two dozen women in the Coral Gables area of Florida. As described in a Miami Herald article following his exoneration:

Behind him in a third-floor hallway of the Richard E. Gersten Justice Building surged a crowd of sobbing, laughing relatives Wednesday. Among them...(Diaz's) children who are now the parents of children who had never met their grandfather.

Diaz had his three children waiting for him upon his release in 2005. ''They tore a family apart,'' said Jose, 40. ''I feel it's a miracle and a gift from God,'' said Marilyn, 34. ''I'm just glad he's going to be vindicated,'' said Albert, 31. When you combine their ages at the time of their father's wrongful conviction, 14, 8 and 5--it totals coincidentally close to the 26 years spent fighting to prove their father's innocence.

In a post a couple of weeks ago on the YP4 blog, I highlighted the case of Walter Swift, a Michigan man who was wrongfully convicted of rape and robbery. Audrey Kelly Mills, his daughter, now 27, was one year old when he was convicted. Upon his exoneration a few weeks ago she expressed her feelings of happiness and gratitude for getting her father back. Her joyous feelings were not alone as they were accompanied by feelings of frustration and anger. "I'm angry that this is supposed to be a justice system, and it's nothing even close to a justice system," she said.

Through my work as an intern at the Innocence Project over the past year, I have come across many more examples in addition to those listed above--where the children of the exonerated suffered dearly along with them while they were in prison. They weren't necessarily in prison along with their fathers, but through their words and expressions in the media you can tell that they certainly felt like they were behind bars.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Silent Vigil in Columbia, SC

We, a few abolitionists in the Carolinas, send our concerns to those of you in Texas, Georgia and around the nation TODAY and for the rest of Week. Let's hold one another in the clear light of unity, truth, compassion and healing for all. Whether or not we do it by prayer or by simple love and goodwill for all, we each and all have it in us to rise to the occasion of this difficult sad time for so many.

Connie Nash

Execution of David Mark Hill

Silent Vigil scheduled for 7 PM, Thursday, June 5, 2008, at the Saint Thomas Moore Catholic Chapel (behind main building) on 1610 Greene Street, Columbia, SC. This vigil is open to all sides and healing prayers are for family and friends from both sides.

Silent protest at Governor's mansion is scheduled after the Thursday evening vigil.

Execution Protest Vigil scheduled to start Friday, June 6, about 5 PM in front of the Department of Corrections administration building on Broad River Road. Signs will be available after 4 PM. Execution is scheduled for 6 PM.

Anyone is welcome to participate.

David Mark Hill has requested this state assisted suicide. The state will conduct the execution as required by the laws of the State of South Carolina at 6 PM on the 6th day of June.
Please click here for information on the case of David Mark Hill.

Death Penalty Documentary: Execution Tour of NC Death Row

"Creator of us all, you promised us that nothing could separate us from your love and you asked us to mirror that perfect love for all people. Grant us the strength and courage to love all people as you love them, especially those on Death Row in SC [and specifically David Mark Hill] and the families they [he]devastated. May we be a blessing to all whose affected by violence in their grief and imprisonment, and may we learn from their experience as we seek to free South Carolina from the violence that separates us all from you." (Mrs. Julia Sibley-Jones, Yearbook of Prayer for South Carolina 2008, p.8.)

Some voices on stay of execution

Victims’ family reacts to delay
By Meagan Ducic - Item Correspondent - The Huntsville Item

Protesters arrived outside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Walls Unit shortly before 2 p.m. Tuesday to rally against the execution of Derrick Sonnier. Sonnier, convicted of the 1991 murder of his neighbor, Melody Flowers, 27, and her 2-year-old son, Patrick, was scheduled to become the first Texas inmate to be executed since September 2007. But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals gave Sonnier a reprieve from execution less than two hours before he would have received the lethal injection at 6 p.m. His lawyers questioned whether the state’s lethal injection procedures were legal.

While protesters waved signs outside the Walls Unit, the victims’ family members were present, but they stayed far from the group.

“He is a cancer to our family,” said Celma Mcellan, sister of Melody Flowers, of Sonnier. “We wanted to hear him appolgize for her kids and her family."

“We wanted to hear him say ‘I’m sorry for what I did and I’m sorry for the pain I have caused y’all.’ We don’t even know what kind of kid Patrick would have been. He might have been the president for all we know or the mayor of this city.

“We don’t know, he never had that chance — he was only a baby. I can’t believe he’s still breathing and they’re not.”

Gwen Price, Melody Flowers’ cousin, was also devastated by the news of Sonnier’s stay.

“He had no right to go in and do what he did to her and my nephew,” Price said. “Now they’re going to let him stay? We lost.”

At the other end of the street, a group of protesters quietly stood or sat on folding chairs holding up signs.

One of the 15 protesters Tuesday afternoon was David Atwood of Houston, a member of The Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.“I’ve been up here quite a few times,” Atwood said. “We’re just here as a protest against the death penalty. We don’t think that we need it.

“There’s life without parole now, and you can have a safe society without executing people. It just doesn’t make sense to do it anymore. I think there are a lot of people even here in Huntsville who are against the death penalty, even though you have the execution chambers here and you have all these prisions around.”

“We have 370 people on death row now, and a lot of us feel that the death penalty is being driven now more by the politicians instead of the people, because most people want safety but they’re not into killing people,” Atwood said. “The majority of people would choose life without parole instead of the death penalty, according to polls done by Stephen Klineberg who’s a professor of Sociology at Rice University.”

Andre Latallade, better known nationally as Capital “X,” left his home in New Jersey and walked more than 1,700 miles to date in support of the abolition of the death penalty. He is the visionary behind the WALK 4 Life campaign. He was also present for the protest. “This is my first time to acutally be at an execution, but I definitely feel I need to be here,” Latallade said.

Kristin Wood, wife of death row inmate Jeff Wood, was also present during the prostest. Currently a Norwegian citizen, Wood splits her time between the States and Norway, so she can fight the death penalty on her husband’s behalf.

“I really feel for the victims and the victims’ families,” Wood said. “I wish that these things would never happen, but it doesn’t do any good, you know. Murder doesn’t justify murder."

“All it does is create more victims. They want to take away a father, a brother, a son; the whole law of parties has got to go. Over here in Texas, they all go by ‘an eye for an eye,’ but how many eyes are they going to take for one pair of eyes? I don’t get it.”

On Feb. 3, 1998, after then-Gov. George W. Bush denied her request for clemency, Karla Faye Tucker became the first woman to be executed in Texas since the American Civil War. Tuesday, her victim’s brother, Ronald Carlson, stood outside the courthouse protesting the death penalty.

“We as human beings do not have the right to destroy what God has created,” Carlson said. “A lot of the pro-death penalty people look to the Old Testament, and say ‘eye for an eye,’ and I’m like, ‘that’s what God said.’ But we live in the New Testament days.

“The day that Daniel Ryan Garrett got the death penalty, my words to the prosecutor were, ‘I guess they got what they deserved.’ But at that point I was for it; as time went on I had to really decide where I stood because I found that all the anger and hatred I felt wasn’t going away, it was getting worse.

“Before all this it wasn’t an issue for me; it was just news. But when it happens in your own backyard, you have to live with in – you have to decide.

“I witnessed the execution of Karla Faye Tucker here at the Walls Unit; she was pronounced dead at 6:45. I made that walk, and actually saw the execution — it’s the real deal.”