Saturday, August 30, 2008

In memory of Rachel

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
(Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Rachel King (RIP)
1963 - 2008

Rachel King wrote about me several times. It is way past time for me to write something about her.

Rachel’s family has requested contributions to the The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, in lieu of flowers in her memory.

Rachel helped the abolition movement in many ways. Most people have no idea of the extent. To really know and understand Rachel, you need to read her works. It would honor her if you to took the time to read what she wrote. You would see first hand her contribution to the movement.

I got to know Rachel pretty well when she was writing her first, and I think greatest book, Don’t Kill in Our Names: Families of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty. Check out any of these links to know Rachel and her work better:
Family photo album

Her next major work was Capital Consequences: Families of the Condemned Tell Their Stories. Check out any of these links to know Rachel better.
About the book

Another very important piece by Rachel was NOT IN OUR NAME: Murder Victims Families Speak out Against the Death Penalty. It was a project of Barb Hood and Rachel’s during her stint as the inaugural Director of Alaska Against the Death Penalty...The first printing was in 1997 and has since been updated and reprinted at least 4 times. Barb and Rachel began their project with pictures and interviews that were taken during the Virginia of Hope in 1996.

Rachel used the message of Murder Victim’s Families for Reconciliation as the introduction for their work in photos and personal stories. Her message for this book was MVFR’s message:

“In the aftermath of a murder, we often hear cries for the death penalty. For centuries, killing people to punish them for killing has been a part of our culture. But in recent decades, the justifications that have long sustained the death penalty in the public mind have been largely discredited. For example, studies now show that the death penalty does not deter violent crime, and instead may provoke it; that executions are much more costly than life imprisonment, not less costly; and that police find the death penalty among the least effective crime-fighting measures that many politicians and prosecutors would have us believe.

As reasons for supporting the death penalty grow thin under scrutiny, proponents often fall back on the old stand-by question: Well, what if someone in your family was murdered? Wouldn’t you want their murderer to die? This is meant to disarm us. “Of course,” we are expected to say. After all, our culture has long supported killing for killing. But as people who have experienced first-hand the effects of murder, we are here to say,


We are members of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, a national organization of family members who have lost relatives to murder to execution by the State. We oppose the death penalty in all cases, and work instead for alternatives to the death penalty. We promote policies that prevent violent crime and programs that help victims heal and rebuild their lives. We know too well the horrible effects of killing, and how important it is that the cycle of killing in this country be broken. We can’t stop all violence, but we can work to stop the violence carried out by a government that kills in our names.

Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation was founded in 1976 by Marie Deans of Richmond , Virginia , after the murder of her mother-in-law Penny. Since that time the organization has become a leader in the abolition movement, both nationally and internationally. Since 1993, MVFR’s “Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing” tours have helped spread the message to communities across the U.S. that executions are terrible memorials to people we love.”

If you read the Interview with Rachel on history of NOT IN OUR NAME you really begin to understand her.

Again, Rachel’s family requested that contributions be made to The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in lieu of flowers. The NCADP is the leading organization in this country solely dedicated to the abolition of the death penalty. It is an organization that is worth your investment. Rachel invested in this organization and I know she would want you to do likewise.

Rachel King and I were both elected to the NCADP board in 1996. Rachel and I have both had the privilege of serving as past chairpersons on that board. I know she believed strongly in the NCADP and in Executive Director and friend Diann Rust-Tierney. An investment to the NCADP will go far in helping abolish the death penalty.

Rachel contributed the royalties from Don’t Kill in Our Names: Families of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty to support the Journey of Hope … from Violence to Healing and Murder Victim’s Families for Human Rights. As a founding & present, board member of both of those organizations I can say we owe a debt of gratitude to Rachel. She also supported and promoted these additional organizations.

The Journey of Hope blog has been memorializing Rachel King since her death on Monday. I invite you to check out what others have said in her memory.

We have listed many personal comments as well as blog posting of MVFHR, ACLU, NCADP and others. Read how Marshall Dayan, Jack Payden-Travers, Ron Carlson, Phyllis Pautrat, Renny Cushing, Diann Rust-Tierney and others are remembering and honoring Rachel during this time.

The Journey of Hope blog would love for you to add your words of honor in her memory.

I will also be adding some additional posts during the next few days sharing my thoughts and feelings about Rachel. I will share some special moments like the time in 1996 when she shaved her head to join Sam Reese Sheppard in solidarity and fun. This was years before she lost her hair the second time, this time due to chemo.

There is a story about how Don’t Kill in Our Names, caused Common Courage Press to back out of their agreement to publish my book Journey of Hope … from Violence to Healing in early 2003. In spite of that Rachel and I were still able to travel together for an Alaskan book tour sponsored by Alaskans Against the Death Penalty in 2004. We promoted our books and each other.

Rachel kept a journal on her illness and her friends were updated by Journal reports sent out from time to time. I will share some of her thoughts of experiences she encountered as she courageously fought for life. She was a great battler. We can all learn from her. She is a heroine.

She was an angel sent from God.

Young people in the movement have someone to look up and to emulate. Who can fill her giant footprints? Maybe Rachel Lawler, maybe Ashley Kincaid, maybe Will McAuliffe, or maybe you.

With this small glimpse of her life I hope you got to know Rachel King a little better. Show honor by reading her words and spreading them. Show honor to her by supporting her causes.

Her stories and her causes will help bring abolition of the death penalty. It is up to us how long that will take.

Bill Pelke

Page for Favorite Rachel King Quotes

This first part is simply an introduction to further quotes from various and sundry places, including personal conversations...

From her great book "Don't Kill in Our Names"

Since 1973, King says, 200 death sentences have been handed down to juvenile offenders, at least half of which were in Texas, Florida, and Alabama. She goes on to say that minorities, another vulnerable group, made up two-thirds of the juveniles sentenced to death.

In addition, says King, since 1990, only five countries besides the United States have made it a practice to execute juvenile offenders-Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia. This, she says, puts the United States "in the company of some of the world's most notorious human rights violators."

...King discusses wrongful conviction. She points out that as of 2001, 98 people from 22 states had been released from death row after they were able to establish their innocence through DNA or other evidence. And while death penalty proponents say this proves the criminal justice system does work, King argues that it was not the system that exonerated these prisoners, but rather family members, filmmakers, and journalists. "Most death row inmates are not fortunate enough to have this type of extra-legal help," she says. "One can only speculate on the number of innocent people who have been executed."

As with juvenile offenders, a vast majority of adult death row inmates are from minorities. King quotes the following statistics: 11 of the 13 prisoners executed in Alabama from 1976 to 1997 were African-American; at least 50 percent of inmates on death row in North Carolina, Ohio, Delaware, Mississippi, and Virginia are African-American; more than three out of four persons on death row in military prisons are people of color; and 60 percent of prisoners on death row in California and Texas are either black, Latino, Asian, or Native American.

In the final unit of her book, King addresses one solution for this problem. Restorative justice, King says, is a problem-solving approach to crime that involves the community, the victims' families, and even the offenders' families. King says restorative justice is based on the assumption that crime "originates in social conditions and relationships in the community and that effective crime prevention depends on communities taking some responsibility for remedying the conditions that cause crime."

...King concludes by turning the spotlight on herself, admitting that she has struggled with the idea of forgiveness. After writing her book, however, she has looked to the inspiration of these families' stories to deal with life's daily injustices.

"Each person in this book faced a situation of unbelievable grief, and all not only survived but used it to improve their lives or the lives of people around them," she says. "Perhaps the enduring lesson is that love and forgiveness are more powerful than any amount of hate and revenge."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

NCADP Tribute to Rachel King: 1963 - 2008

It is with sadness that we report the passing of our friend and colleague Rachel King, who died on August 25, 2008 after a long and valiant struggle with cancer.

Rachel was first a daughter, friend, wife and step-mother, but her personal and professional lives merged in her advocacy and efforts to make our world a better place. She did so in volunteer and staff capacities with various organizations, including Alaskans Against the Death Penalty, the ACLU Capital Punishment Project and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, where she served on the board of directors and as its chairperson. Rachel is the author of three books, two of which explore capital punishment from the perspective of the families who suffer the most as a result of the death penalty system.

Read more about Rachel’s history of successful advocacy here and here.

Rachel passed away in Wayne, Maine, where she was raised and later she and her husband, Richard McAlee, built a home together. Her last moments were spent surrounded by family and friends. Those who wish may reach the family by email through her step-daughter Lauren, or by mail through her mother Jill Howes at 282 Narrows Pond Rd., Winthrop, ME 04364. Rachel's family asks those wishing to send a memorial to send donations to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in lieu of flowers.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

ACLU Tribute to Rachel King

Posted by Jack Payden-Travers, Capital Punishment Project, ACLU at 11:54 am August 27, 2008

In Memory of Rachel King: July 2, 1963 – August 25, 2008

It is with sadness that we report the passing of Rachel King. Rachel was the former State Strategies Coordinator and later the Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project.

Rachel passed away in Wayne, Maine, where she was raised and later she and her husband, Richard McAlee, built a vacation home. Her last moments were spent surrounded by family and friends.

Although Rachel was a staunch abolitionist, her career took her in many directions, always where she could be of service to her fellow person. At the time of her death Rachel was on the staff of the U.S. House Committee of the Judiciary where she covered issues of crime, terrorism and homeland security. Rachel also taught at the Howard University School of Law.

Her service to the ACLU was not solely in the Capital Punishment Project. In fact, she served as Legislative Counsel for the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office and Executive Director of the ACLU of Alaska. Rachel’s dedication to the cause of death penalty abolition could be seen in not only her ACLU work but she was also the Director of Alaskans Against the Death Penalty and Chair of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Rachel’s public service career started early. Prior to law school she was a human rights monitor in Guatemala with the Sanctuary Movement. An internship during her studies at Northeastern Law School took her to Alaska and upon receiving her Juris Doctor degree she returned to work as counsel for the Alaska Public Defender Agency. She earned a Masters from Temple University School of Law.

She wrote and lectured tirelessly to abolish capital punishment. Her first book, Don’t Kill In Our Names: Families Of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty was published in 2003. The book told the stories of family members of murder victims who believed that revenge through the death penalty was not the way to honor their loved ones. In 2005, Rachel authored one of the first investigations on the experiences of the families of the executed, Capital Consequences: Families of the Condemned Tell Their Stories.

While teaching us all how to live a full life with cancer she wrote her first novel, Tales Of The District: Life In The Nation’s Capital In A Time Of Terror, which was published in late 2007.

Rachel was also the primary author of Broken Justice: The Death Penalty in Virginia (2003), Broken Justice: The Death Penalty in Alabama (2005), Not in Our Name (1997), and The Forgotten Population: A Look at Death Row in the United States Through the Experiences of Women (2004) and many similar publications for organizations such as the ACLU, the American Friends Service Committee and Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation.

Those of us who were privileged to work with Rachel know that she rarely took credit for her endeavors, was patient with those who failed to keep up with her pace, and was an excellent colleague as well as a good friend.

It is typical of Rachel that in lieu of flowers she asked that those wishing to send a memorial please make a donation to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. She may be gone but her spirit lives on in all those who continue to advance her work of abolition of the death penalty and social justice. As they say in Guatemala on the passing of a friend, Rachel King, Presenté!

Ron Carlson--Tribute to Rachel King and Recent Article

“We as a society should not be involved in the practice of killing people.”
Ronald W. Carlson Journey Participant: Indiana and Texas

I met Rachel while she was working on "Don't Kill In Our Name: Families of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty" as she spent some time in my home talking to me about my experiences. I recall her zealous attitude and a sparkle in her eye. Her work was important as it has helped to open eyes to the reality that not everyone is for the death penalty. She was a very courageous individual and will be missed by many. Rest In Peace Rachel.
Ronald W. Carlson

Just out yesterday, August 26, 2008 at Death Penalty Information Center--
NEW VOICES: Victim's Brother Says Execution left him with "horror and emptiness"

Ronald Carlson wanted vengeance when his sister was murdered in 1983 in Texas. But when he witnessed the execution in 1998 of the person who committed the murder he changed his mind. In a recent op-ed in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Carlson said he had no opinion on capital punishment before his sister’s death and remembers feeling hatred and “would have killed those responsible with my own hands if given the opportunity.” But he later discovered that, “Watching the execution left me with horror and emptiness, confirming what I had already come to realize: Capital punishment only continues the violence that has a powerful, corrosive effect on society.”

Carlson said he sympathizes with other victims’ families, understanding how they would want to see those who killed their love ones suffer the same fate. But, he said, “[O]ur justice system should not be dictated by vengeance.” He asked, “As a society, shouldn’t we be more civilized than the murderers we condemn?” Carlson has spent over half of his life examining this issue and has come to believe, “We as a society should not be involved in the practice of killing people.”
(R. Carlson, “Time to end the death penalty’s cycle of violence,” Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, August 3, 2008).

Keep watching New Voices and Victims at Death Penalty Information Center

Ronald W. Carlson is the brother of Deborah Thornton, victim of Karla Faye Tucker. There is more information on his tragic experience and courageous stand at Journey of Hope website and also on You Tube. Please see these--I think you will be inspired at how much Ron had to forgive and how his faith helped him. In brief:

"The world is not a better place because the State of Texas executed Karla Faye Tucker. Even though Karla murdered my only sibling -- my sister, Deborah, who had raised me after our mother died -- I stood with her as one of her witnesses when she was executed. I was there to stand up for the Lord, for the strength of his love. Karla and I had both done a lot of wrong in our lives. We had both turned to drugs to heal our pain; we had both hurt a lot of people. But the love of Jesus Christ transformed us. We were able to forgive ourselves and each other. "I love you Ronnie," was one of the last things Karla said. I still carry that love with me".

Ron says that the hardest thing he ever had to do was to forgive Karla Faye Tucker and that she became the strongest believer he ever met. Ron was convinced that if there's anyone in heaven -- it would be her.

Thank you so much, Ron, for your tribute to Rachel and your recent Op Ed! Let us know of any future items you'd like to see on this blog...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

For Victims, Against the Death Penalty--In Memoriam: Rachel King

For Victims, Against the Death Penalty

The web log of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights
Tuesday, August 26, 2008

In Memoriam: Rachel King
We are sad to announce that long-time anti-death penalty activist Rachel King died yesterday after a long battle with cancer. Rachel died far too young but accomplished a great deal in her lifetime. As acting director of Alaskans Against the Death Penalty, Rachel helped to defeat a death penalty reinstatement bill in 1994. As part of that effort, Rachel and her colleague Barbara Hood had invited Marietta Jaeger, whose 7-year-old daughter had been murdered years before, to speak to Alaskan lawmakers about her opposition to the death penalty. Many of those lawmakers later said that listening to Marietta convinced them to change their minds and vote against the death penalty.

Recognizing the power of victims' voices against the death penalty, Rachel and Barbara collaborated to produce the first edition of Not in Our Name: Murder Victims' Families Speak Out Against the Death Penalty, and Rachel subsequently wrote and published the book Don't Kill in Our Names and its companion volume Capital Consequences: Families of the Condemned Tell Their Stories, which was one of the first investigations into the experience of families of the executed.

Rachel worked as a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, lobbying on many criminal justice issues including the death penalty, served as chair of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and taught law school classes. When she attended Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights' founding ceremony on December 10, 2004, Rachel offered these public remarks:

I first learned about the power of murder victims to talk about this issue when I was working in Alaska back in 1994. The leader of the Senate had a bill to introduce the death penalty. He had the votes to pass it, and it looked like it was a foregone conclusion that Alaska, like a lot of other states, was going to have the death penalty. And then we brought some murder victims' families to Alaska. We brought Marietta Jaeger, whose 7-year-old daughter Susie had been kidnapped and murdered, and she changed people’s hearts and minds. Legislators told us later that she had changed their position on this issue. I’m proud to say that Alaska does not have the death penalty. We fought it back that year, we fought it back two years after that. We kept bringing back the murder victims' family members, and even got one of them, Bill Pelke, to move up there, and now they just don’t have a prayer of bringing the death penalty back. The momentum has totally shifted.

I’m personally interested in Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights because before I went to law school I was a human rights monitor in Guatemala, and I have a lot of feeling for that country and for the people there who suffered greatly. I got involved in going to Guatemala when I met people in the Sanctuary movement here in the U.S. who were fleeing from political persecution in Guatemala. When I was in Guatemala I worked with a woman named Annette de Garcia who had started a group for families and friends of the disappeared. One time I was in her home watching, guarding, her 4-year-old daughter, and I was looking through this closet, and there were volumes of books, literally dozens of them, and they were all photographs of family members who had been disappeared. Now this is another kind of death penalty; it’s not the kind we think about in the U.S. but it’s state-sponsored execution. Really it’s the same issue of the state sponsoring violence, and how we need to move away from that. There really isn’t any other group out there making that kind of linkage between the issues, and I think MVFHR is going to do it. So the ACLU really looks forward to working with you all and I’m really glad to be here.

We remain grateful for all of Rachel's work on behalf of a better world. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.

Renny Cushing, Executive Director
Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights

Rachel King: Large Footsteps Indeed

Dear all,

We surely lost a beloved friend and fearless fighter for justice. Now, I'd like to share a few anecdotes about my friend:

The strong-willed friend:

Rachel was living in Philly when the Virginia Journey of Hope in the mid-nineties took place. (She and I had become friends, after being introduced at one of the first Fast & Vigils at the Supreme Court while she still lived in Alaska). She was just starting her "Don't Kill for Me" project, interviewing and photographing family members of murder victims. We decided to drive down together, and I'd drive my car. Rachel grew up in Maine and lived in Alaska. I'm from South Jersey. The cold didn't bother Rachel. I couldn't stand it. October for me is deep freeze. We "argued" the whole way down about my freezing and her complaining about the heat on in the car. She won almost the entire route, switching off the heat. I was a city person and afraid of spiders. We walked in the dark to the cabin in the woods. She wouldn't let me use the flashlight to check for spiders because it might "bother others". She said I should basically get over it. Of course I ended up not using the flashlight.

The early to bed friend:

She went to sleep early. I like to stay up late. One night we were out with visiting friends in Philly and she invited me to stay at her place in the city instead of driving back to NJ. I wasn't ready to go back to her apartment. She wanted to go to sleep. She said she'd leave the key. She did. She also had turned all the lights out, left me a thin blanket and a thermostat probably set on 45 degrees. I was "afraid" to wake her so I froze all night. That happened a few times... at her apartment in DC too.

The independent-minded friend:

We were traveling with one of the "Journeys of Hope". Rachel watched Sam Shepard shave his head. She thought that was cool. Next thing you know... Rachel had her head shaved to match Sam.

The proud friend:

After her first bouts with chemo, I met Rachel at the NCADP annual conference. We always tried to manage to either sneak away from the conference for lunch, or to sit together at the Saturday night banquet. Rachel and I planned to meet before the banquet so we'd get a seat together. She showed up dressed in the most stunning outfit, once again head bald... no scarf for her. She was beautiful that night, more beautiful maybe than ever.

The forgiving friend:

Over the past few years, I didn't get a chance to see Rachel very often. So many of us allow work to consume our time, and we think our friends will be there with us forever. I emailed and called her, and told her over and over what a lousy friend I was, because I should have been around more when she got ill. She would have none of that. She was forgiving and told me to get rid of the guilt.

Some folks wonder how you could care so much for a friend you saw so little. I've tried to explain how in the abolition/human rights movement, we more often than not, call each other family, because it just feels that way, more than a friendship. We work on tough issues, and develop strong personalities when arguing for justice. But there are some folks, Rachel for sure, that truly have and had become family over the years. We don't have to see each other regularly. Often not more than once each year. We squabble like family members do, sometimes over the issues, sometimes over thermostats in an apartment you only visit on lucky occasions when you get together away from the crowds, and get some time on the road away from jobs, etc. Only those who have experienced those bonds truly know what they mean.

So many of you know. I've seen that in just the past week or hours, in what and how you've written about Rachel.

Rachel will always be part of my human rights family. I wish we had more time. I will miss my friend always. And in the meantime hold you all dear, all the more because I know what I and we just lost. Rachel can rest now. I'll work harder because of her. Large footsteps indeed.


The Life, Light and Leadership of Rachel King: 1963 - 2008

Bill with Rachel -- 2003 Journey of Hope in Ohio

ONE ONGOING TRIBUTE, a collection of gratitude and remembrances from those who love and have loved Rachel in person and/or through her work. Here's to Rachel's Beautiful Energy and plain hard work that will help sustain us all on the difficult path ahead--expandable space ...

First--a beautiful statement of grief and gratitude from Marshall Dyan, who, as Rachel's longtime friend and colleague in so many ways, has been hit especially hard. Bless you, Marshall! We love you and are holding you in our hearts and in the One Light during this cloudy, shocking time. You speak for many of us. Thank you!

From Marshall:
I want to share remembrances of Rachel, because this loss is a really, really hard one. I first got to know Rachel when she was living and working in Alaska. I met her at a NCADP annual conference. She was wearing the now infamous "Fry Fish, Not People" t-shirt of the Alaskans Against the Death Penalty that has become synonymous with the movement in Alaska. She was smart, and pretty, and funny, with a great smile. She and I served together on the board of the NCADP, and she ultimately became a Chair of that board. We continued to work together while she was at Temple Law School, and also while she was with the ACLU-Capital Punishment Project in D.C.-- Where she found the time to write is beyond me. She worked all the time, and yet made time to write two books. When I succeeded her at the Capital Punishment Project after it relocated to Durham, NC, wherever I went across the country, as I visited state ACLU affiliates, I found that Rachel had already left huge footprints. Indeed, that is a hallmark of her life generally -- she left huge footprints. We should redouble our efforts to ensure that her life's work, abolition of the death penalty, comes to pass, and soon. May the memory of her life and work be a blessing to all. -Marshall Dayan

I go now to light incense and chant for my dear friend Rachel. May all beings fully awaken to their true nature. -Kobutsu

That we are all weeping together in the movement that she helped build and articulate better than most anyone else is appropriate. What an incomparable loss. -Jennifer Bishop Jenkins

Thanks for this very sad news, Bill. Please keep us posted, especially on DC services for Rachel. She will be deeply, deeply missed! love, Stephanie (former Journey of Hope board member, Stephanie Gibson.)

Dear Bill Pelke, Many regards from Holland, Wim Petersen from the city of Delden, member of ACAT Nederland. We will light a candle in our chapel for the late Rachel King. May she rest in peace. -Wim Petersen

Thanks for posting that note about Rachel. I was so sorry to hear that she passed away. She was a dedicated abolitionist and good friend to so many.
All the best, Ari (Ari Kohen)

I am at a loss for words. What a remarkable woman.
Rest in peace, Rachel, and thank you for your extraordinary contribution to humanity. -Celeste Fitzgerald

My heart is saddened by the passing of Rachel King. Although I didn’t know her well, I cherish the times I spent with her and will always be inspired about her work. I talked to her a lot when she was writing her book where she included Sunny’s story and my role in helping free her. She will be missed on a personal level and in the abolition movement. -Micki Dickoff


Other Tributes? Keep them coming and we will post--and/or send as a comment which we can then add to the others as we have a chance. Perhaps,send your items and photos to BOTH Bill Pelke and Connie Nash, so we can help make sure this blog is a kind of continuous vigil for 24 hours and beyond...

This Tribute is open-ended and we will also be updating with additions during days ahead...

Rachel King Quote

Rachel King in a relaxed stance a few years ago.

"I have worked within the criminal justice system throughout my legal career and have seen the many ways that it is unfair. The death penalty represents the worst aspects of the criminal justice system. Instead of punishing the people who commit the worst crimes, the death penalty is used against people who are the most vulnerable – the poor, mentally retarded, mentally ill, youths and people of color. Our society has tried to administer the system “fairly” and that experiment has failed. Ending the death penalty will mark an evolutionary change when we acknowledge that government sponsored killing is not the answer to violence. I want to be part of bringing about this change." Rachel King

And Rachel, you certainly have been a strong and beautiful part of this change!

Watch for a Tribute Page sometime soon...add yours and any other photos you love of Rachel...please send these to both Bill Pelke and Connie Nash so that we will be sure not to miss these.

Monday, August 25, 2008

On the passing of our friend (and family member) Rachel King 1963 - 2008

Rachel was a friend of the Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, Murder Victim Families for Human Rights and many others from around the country and around the world.

-Don't Kill In Our Name: Families of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty- and -Capital Consequences: Families of the Condemned Tell Their Stories- are two of Rachel's great works.

Please read the following from Rachel's family.


Bill Pelke

Rachel King, 1963 - 2008

Dear friends,

Our inimitable Rachel King passed tonight at quarter to seven p.m. She died in her home in Wayne, Maine, overlooking the shores of Dexter Pond. Rachel grew up in Wayne, and later built a second home there with her husband, Richard McAlee. Her last moments were spent surrounded by friends and family, holding her hand and telling her how much they love her. Richard, her mother Jill, father Charlie, step-daughter Julia, and friends Barb Brink, Bill Murray, Mary Jane Cavallo, and Monique Mitchell were all present.

A memorial service will be held at Wayne Community Church, where Rachel and Richard married, this Sunday afternoon. Any friends able to travel to Maine are welcome. A second memorial service will be held in Washington, D. C. within the next few weeks. We will send details as they become available.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the love, prayers, cards, and thoughts you have shared with us and Rachel through her journey with cancer, and particularly your outreach over the past weeks. Almost all messages you send through email, mail, or phone were able to be shared with her, and we know they brought her great comfort; any messages that did not reach her directly will be shared with her immediate family. Your responses to Rachel over the past weeks have been truly overwhelming; they are a tribute to what an amazing and far-reaching life she led. We were all so blessed to be touched by her.

You can reach the family by email through her step-daughter Lauren at , or by mail through her mother Jill Howes at 282 Narrows Pond Rd., Winthrop, ME 04364. If you wish to send a memorial, please send donations to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in lieu of flowers.

With great love,

Richard McAlee, Jill Howes, Livia McAlee, Julia McAlee, and Lauren McAlee

Updates on Sister Helen and Interfaith Gathering

Photo of Sister Helen

Only Democratic Convention Interfaith Event of it's kind...

In 2004, there was one interfaith lunch at the Democratic gala in Boston.

Death Penalty Opponent Sister Helen Prejean to be at ASU August 28

The death penalty in the United States "says that we are still wedded to violence as a way to solve social problems.

Rev. Leah D. Daughtry Convention CEO - posted the following... August 24, 2008 (Perhaps a Republican Abolitionist will also be represented at one of their coming televised events as we know has been the case in some areas of the US. If so, please let us know...)

"Democrats have been, are and will continue to be people of faith - and this interfaith gathering is proof of that. As Convention CEO and a pastor myself, I am incredibly proud that these esteemed leaders from the faith community (are) with us to celebrate this historic occasion and honor the diverse faith traditions inside the Democratic Party."

The Democratic National Convention Committee (hosted) the first-ever Democratic National Convention interfaith gathering, the first official event for the 2008 Convention. An interfaith gathering (was) be held at 2:00 pm MT, Sunday, August 24 at the Wells Fargo Theater, inside the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, Colo.

Bishop Charles E. Blake, presiding prelate of the Church of God In Christ, Inc. and pastor at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ; Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America; Sister Helen Prejean, social activist and author of "Dead Man Walking;" and Rabbi Tzvi Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, (led) the event.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

More Items on Jeff Wood Case

Texas Killing Bed
Jeff Wood received a last minute stay before a scheduled execution. Here are more items published on this case: From NYTimes August 22, 2008--
Federal Judge Sharply Criticizes Texas System in Ordering Stay of Execution

Jeff Wood’s execution was stayed with only hours remaining by U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio. The judge chastised the Texas courts for their refusal last week to hire mental health experts to determine whether Wood (pictured) was insane or appoint a lawyer to represent him for a competency hearing. The state courts had ruled that Wood had to show he was insane before they would appoint a lawyer and a psychologist to help prove he was insane. Judge Garcia's opinion said such a system is absurd, “With all due respect, a system that requires an insane person to first make ‘a substantial showing’ of his own lack of mental capacity without the assistance of counsel or a mental health expert, in order to obtain such assistance is, by definition, an insane system.”

In their appeal, Wood’s attorneys argued he is too delusional to understand why he is to die. Attorney Scott Sullivan said, “He will become delusional and deny the apparent reality right in front of him,” adding that Wood believes he is the victim of a Freemason conspiracy. In granting the stay, the court noted that Wood's bizarre statements at his trial and in prison, “at least arguably suggest the petitioner lacks a rational understanding of the casual link between his role in his criminal offense and the reason he has been sentenced to death.”

Wood’s mental heath was severe enough that one jury found him incompetent to stand trial, and it was only after spending time in a mental hospital that he was found competent by a second jury. Evidence of his delusions, emotional problems, and mental health difficulties were never brought before the jury that sentenced him to death because he instructed his lawyers not to present any evidence on his behalf. Judge Garcia said that such decision-making was, “bizarre, seemingly paranoid and clearly suicidal.” Wood’s case has received significant attention as he was sentenced to death under Texas' “law of parties.” His partner in a robbery shot a victim in a gas station while Wood was outside in a car. It is rare for anyone to be executed in the U.S. who was not directly involved in an actual murder.
(J. McKinley, “Federal judge, chastising the Texas courts, orders a stay of execution,” New York Times, August 22, 2008). See Mental Illness and Crimes Punishable by Death.
Execution of mentally ill man put on hold in Texas (Also August 22, 2008)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — A US court on Thursday granted a stay of execution to a mentally ill Texas man who was set to die for his role in a murder-robbery, even though he did not pull the trigger.

"Today, the Federal District Court granted a stay of execution in the case of Jeff Wood to allow the court to consider compelling evidence that Jeff Wood is too mentally ill to be executed," said a statement by the defense lawyers.

The court "held that the Texas state courts have not carefully reviewed the question of Wood's competence and that a stay of execution is necessary to ensure that Wood's mental health issues are fully presented and considered by the courts."

Wood, 35, was convicted and sentenced to die for his role in the robbery and killing of a store manager, Kris Keeran, even though Wood was outside the building at the time of the killing.

According to Texas' "law of parties" statute, participants in a crime can be convicted even if they have no role in or advance knowledge that a killing is to take place.

Wood's partner in crime, Daniel Reneau, was executed in 2002 for the murder.

"At Reneau's trial, the prosecution had argued that Reneau was the person chiefly responsible for the crime and that Wood's role was secondary," the Death Penalty Information Center said.

The federal court intervened after the Texas Board of Pardons denied Wood's application for clemency on Wednesday. Prosecutors said they would not appeal.

In 1997, Wood was initially found incompetent to stand trial after a neuropsychologist said he had "a delusional system, an inability to grasp the reality surrounding the issues specific to this case, his role in it, in the crime," defense lawyers said in their statement.

However, Wood was later tried and convicted.

Wood's lawyers asked the governor of Texas to delay Wood's execution by one month, after he had been in solitary confinement on Death Row for 10 years, 23 hours a day, to evaluate his mental health.

In 1986, the Supreme Court effectively banned executing anyone too mentally ill to understand what was to happen to them and why. But it did not establish criteria for evaluating mental competency.

"If a person is only mentally ill and not incompetent, the decisions are less clear and are up to individual judgments by the governor or the jury," Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information center, told AFP.

"Mr. Wood suffers today from the same psychological and emotional impairments for which a jury found him incompetent to stand trial in 1997," his lawyers said.

"He has never received psychiatric or mental health care for these impairments," attorneys said, highlighting that his involvement in the robber was "because of his longstanding mental illness that allowed him to be easily manipulated by the principal actor, Daniel Reneau."

Texas is the top executioner in the United States, having conducted 413 executions over the last 30 years, out of a national total of 1,119 for that period.

It is also one of the few US states that permit capital punishment in a case involving conspiracy to murder, not murder itself.

Seven people were executed for conspiracy after 1976, when the death penalty was re-authorized in the United States, but Wood will be the first to die since 1996.

In right-leaning Texas, support for the death penalty and the state's tough "law-and-order" approach remains high, with advocates arguing the punishment is just, deters crime and provides comfort to victims' families.

NOTE: Find plenty more items published on Jeff Wood's case on "Prevention not Punishment" and Rick Halperin's Updates (Click right on these sites--see column to the right on this blogspot)

New Mexico Items Need Updating -- stay tuned...

Please pardon the delay while the bloggers here confer with NCADP, Longtime Abolitionists in New Mexico and other activists in New Mexico--in order to better provide updated, comprehensive, nationally-approved by NCADP overview of past, current and proposed future work in New Mexico...Thanks for tuning in and for your patience while we at The Journey of Hope try educate ourselves on abolition efforts in this state...Thanks also to all the sincere efforts of activists, lawyers and Journey members in New Mexico!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sister Helen Prejean, the Death Penalty, and the DNCC

Sister Helen Prejean
Advance applause goes to the Democratic National Convention Committee for its decision to include Sister Helen Prejean author of Dead Man Walking in the historic interfaith service opening the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver, USA on August 24th.

Whatever you think of the death penalty, Democrats have on this occasion avoided the interfaith milquetoast trap. Too often political officials select the blandest brands of religious officialdom for worship services--seeking a kind of spiritual good-house keeping seal of approval for their policies and platforms. In so doing politicians deprive themselves and society as a whole an important faith-based tradition:the prophetic pain-in-the-neck. The DNCC won't make that mistake.

On August 24th Sister Helen Prejean, long time Roman Catholic anti-death penalty social activist will join Bishop Charles E. Blake, prelate of the Church of God in Christ, Dr. Ingrid Maatson, President of the Islamic Society of North American, and Rabbi Tzvi Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union in leading the first-ever interfaith service to open a convention--Republican or Democratic. Respected and learned religious leaders all, Sister Helen Prejean makes up in scripturally-sound social activism what she might lack in ecclesiatic ranking within her tradition's hierarchy.

Like secular anti-death penalty activists, Sister Helen's rationales for ending the death penalty include its racial and economic bias and the strong likelihood of wrongful executions. Another powerful argument grounded in Sister Helen's Roman Catholic faith is the "collateral" damage done by the death penalty on the wardens and corrections officials who are directly responsible for overseeing executions. What are the spiritual costs to men and women like Texas Warden, Jim Willett who from 1998-2001 oversaw 89 executions?

"There are times," Willet said in an award-winning NPR radio show Witness to an Execution, "when I'm standing there, watching those fluids flow and wonder whether what we are doing here is right. It is something I'll be thinking about for the rest of my life." The same program chronicled Fred Allen a member of the tie-down team in Texas' Wall Unit who after 120 executions had a mental breakdown and retired from his work.

Given continued popular support for the death penalty in large parts of the United States, it may not be surprising that both Presidential Candidates John McCain and Barack Obama have expressed their support for it. Let's hope both parties--not the Democrats alone--have the courage to engage diverse religious leaders faithful who will pose uncomfortable and untimely questions to their people and political leaders. In this case, Sister Helen Prejean's concerns about the spiritual impact of the DP on the humanity of those who implement it is an appropriate subject for a pre-convention interfaith service at the Democratic National Convention and the policy debates to follow.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Judge calls system "insane"

Taken from a press release of the Texas Defender Service



Austin -- Today, the Federal District Court granted a stay of execution in the case of Jeff Wood to allow the court to consider compelling evidence that Jeff Wood is too mentally ill to be executed. The Court held that the Texas state courts have not carefully reviewed the question of Wood's competence and that a stay of execution is necessary to ensure that Wood's mental health issues are fully presented and considered by the courts. [...]

The Federal District Court authorized an attorney and the assistance of mental health experts, pointing out that the Texas state courts had not complied with the basic due process that the United States Supreme Court required in another Texas case - that of Scott Panetti, a mentally ill death row inmate with a 20 year history of schizophrenia, who was permitted to represent himself at trial dressed in a purple cowboy costume.

In its 20-page order, the Court stated, "With all due respect, a system that requires an insane person to first make "a substantial showing" of his own lack of mental capacity without the assistance of counsel or a mental health expert, in order to obtain such assistance is, by definition, an insane system."

Prosecutors have indicated they will not appeal today's decision. Yesterday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denied the application for clemency on a vote of 7-0 despite the mental health evidence and fact that it is undisputed that Jeff Wood did not kill the victim in this case, but rather was outside the building in a car at the time of the murder. The actual killer, Daniel Reneau, was already executed by the State of Texas in 2002. [...]

A neuropsychologist who evaluated Wood's competence to stand trial said that Mr. Wood "ha[d] a delusional system, an inability to grasp the reality surrounding the issues specific to this case, his role in it, in the crime, as well as other things that present a direct threat to his own well-being, his own sense of self."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The law of parties

Abstract from "Accomplice in 1996 slaying gets execution delay" (The Houston Cronicle, 8/21/08)

At least three Texas death row inmates have been executed under the law of parties, which makes accomplices as liable as the actual killer in capital murder cases.

Carlos Santana, 40, executed in 1993 for the death of 29-year-old security guard Oliver Flores during a failed $1.1 million armored car heist in Houston. His co-defendant, James Meanes, the triggerman, was executed in 1998.

Joseph Starvaggi, 34, executed in 1987 for fatally shooting Montgomery County probation officer John Denson, 43, during a Magnolia home burglary. An accomplice, G.W. Green, 49, was executed in 1991; a third man, Glenn Martin, got life in prison.

Doyle Skillern, 49, was executed in 1985 for the murder of Department of Public Safety narcotics officer Patrick Allen Randel. Skillern claimed an accomplice, Charles Victor Sanne, was the gunman. Sanne got a life sentence.

(Source: Death Penalty Information Center and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Web site)

[...][Jeff] Wood's case has prompted protests by those who contend that the law of parties, and the punishment, are archaic.

"Put them together," said David Fathi, U.S. program director for Human Rights Watch, "and you have a situation that the rest of the world views with shock and incomprehension."

At least three other murder accomplices — as opposed to the actual killers — have been put to death through Texas' law of parties in recent years. The law has been part of the state penal code since at least 1879.

"It's a pretty traditional criminal law that accomplices and co-conspirators are equally held culpable," said University of Houston law professor Sandra Thompson, a criminal law specialist. "You don't have to specifically agree to commit a killing. You agree to commit the target crime. Then any other crimes that are foreseeable, you're responsible."

Role of accomplice

Supporters of the law, she said, suggest that the mere presence of an accomplice can embolden a criminal to kill. Under this theory, a crime might not have been committed without the presence of an accomplice to support the act.

University of Texas law professor Jordan Steiker, however, argued that the law's application to Wood "flies in the face of a broader effort to reserve the death penalty for extreme cases." [..]

The law of parties, derived from English common law, is on the books in 24 of 36 American death penalty states, but internationally, Fathi said, it is increasingly rare. England abolished it 51 years ago.

The U.S. Supreme Court, ruling in law of parties cases from Florida and Arizona, has sent mixed signals.

In 1982, the court reversed the death sentence of Earl Enmund, the getaway driver in a Florida robbery that turned deadly. It noted that Enmund did not kill, attempt to kill or intend to kill or to facilitate a murder.

Five years later, the court held two Arizona brothers culpable in a quadruple homicide committed by their father and another man whom the brothers had armed and helped escape from prison. The brothers, the justices held, "could have anticipated the use of lethal force."[...]

Breaking News: Jeff Wood received a stay!

News just came in that Jeff Wood receive an indefinite stay. Jeff will be evaluated on the competency issues they next months and will be re-evaluated in Feb or March of next year.

Thanks to everyone who helped this by working on the case, supporting the family, calling or writing on behalf of a stay, etc.!!!!

And thanks to everyone who supported this by prayer!!!

Please also read the great post of the ACLU in the Daily Kos on this subject!

Please find more information about the stay, the case and the law of parties here

Victims' relatives, bishops speak against state executions

By Jennifer McMenamin, Baltimore Sun reporter - August 20, 2008

ANNAPOLIS - A group of relatives of murder victims called on state lawmakers yesterday to repeal the death penalty, complaining that the long appeals process that accompanies capital murder prosecutions drags families through painful delays without delivering the justice that the system initially promises.

Standing with their arms around each other's shoulders and holding photos of their loved ones, 10 people delivered a letter signed by dozens more like them to the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, which held the third of its four scheduled hearings yesterday in Annapolis. The panel is examining disparities in the application of the death penalty, the cost differential between litigating prolonged capital punishment cases and life imprisonment, and the impact of DNA evidence.

Like many others who spoke at yesterday's five-hour hearing, the victims' family members asked the commission to recommend the replacement of the death penalty with a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"To be meaningful, justice should be swift and sure. Life without parole, which begins immediately, is both of these; the death penalty is neither," Lisa Delity, a schoolteacher from Bowie, told the commission, reading from the letter signed by 49 Marylanders who have lost relatives to murder. "Capital punishment drags victims' loved ones through an agonizing and lengthy process, holding out the promise of one punishment in the beginning and often resulting in a life sentence in the end anyway." [...]

Commission members also heard yesterday from bishops representing the Roman Catholic, Episcopal and United Methodist churches of Maryland, from a researcher who has studied the cost of the state's death penalty and from a prosecutor and two former prosecutors, all three of whom have handled capital cases but who have come to very different conclusions about its effectiveness.

The three church leaders -- Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, Bishop Eugene T. Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and Bishop John Schol of the United Methodist Church of Maryland -- spoke in favor of the abolishment of capital punishment, arguing that state executions do nothing to curb the violence that has poisoned so many communities in the state.

"How, in the end, does killing its citizens help the state to build the nonviolent, just and civil society that we all desire for ourselves and our children?" Sutton said. He later added, "We are not going to kill our way out of a culture that is awash in violence." [...]

Please read complete article here

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Help needed! Jeff Wood - scheduled to die tomorrow!

Please call, fax, or e-mail the governor and ask him to grant a 30-day stay of execution for Jeff Wood. Jeff did not kill anyone and was not even in the store when the murder took place. The young man murdered was a good friend of his and Jeff would never have killed him. The shooter, Daniel Reneau, has already been executed by the State of Texas. Jeff, like Kenneth Foster, was convicted under Texas’ Law of Parties.


Here is the info for Governor Rick Perry:
- Citizen's Opinion Hotline: (800) 252-9600 [for Texas callers]
- Office of the Governor Main Switchboard: (512) 463-2000 [office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST]
- Office of the Governor Fax: (512) 463-1849

Article in the NY Times on Jeff:

Texas Panel Rejects Plea to Halt Execution of Accomplice in 1996 Murder
By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr. - Published: August 19, 2008

HOUSTON — Jeffrey Lee Wood is sentenced to die this week for the murder of a store clerk during a robbery, even though he was sitting in a truck outside the convenience store when it happened.

Mr. Wood is the latest person to face the death penalty under a Texas law that makes accomplices subject to the death penalty if a murder occurs during a crime.

His lawyers say Mr. Wood is a gullible man of limited intellect who suffers from delusions. In their view, Mr. Wood was never mentally competent to stand trial in the first place.

Nor, they argue, was Mr. Wood aware that his partner in the robbery, David Reneau, was carrying a gun, according to testimony presented at Mr. Reneau’s trial but never brought up during Mr. Wood’s trial.

These arguments failed to sway the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, however. On Tuesday afternoon, the seven-member board unanimously rejected a petition from Mr. Wood’s lawyers for a commutation of his sentence.

That means he will be executed Thursday evening, unless Gov. Rick Perry grants a 30-day reprieve or a judge issues a stay. “The governor hasn’t made a decision,” Mr. Perry’s spokeswoman, Allison Castle, said.

Mr. Wood, who is 35, also lost a motion before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday. His lawyers had asked the court to appoint a lawyer to pursue the argument that Mr. Wood lacks the mental competence to be executed.

Mr. Wood and Mr. Reneau were tried separately for the killing of Kriss Keeran, a 31-year-old cashier who was shot in the forehead during the robbery of a gas station and convenience store in Kerrville, Tex., on Jan. 2, 1996.

Mr. Reneau was executed in 2002. [...]

A jury found Mr. Wood incompetent to stand trial after listening to testimony from a psychiatrist who said Mr. Wood was delusional and could not grasp reality. But after Mr. Wood spent a short stint in a mental hospital, a second jury found him competent. The judge did not let Mr. Wood’s lawyers cross-examine some witnesses at that hearing.

After his conviction, Mr. Wood wanted to represent himself in deliberations on his sentence, but the judge refused. Mr. Wood ordered his lawyers not to cross-examine any witnesses in the proceeding, a decision his lawyers at the time called “a gesture of suicide.” The jury voted for the death penalty. [...]

Under the Texas “law of parties,” the question of whether Mr. Wood anticipated the murder is important. People who conspire to commit a felony are all responsible for an ensuing crime, like murder, if it can be shown they should have known it would happen.

The United States Supreme Court has upheld the principle, ruling in 1987 that the Constitution does not forbid the death penalty for a defendant “whose participation in a felony that results in murder is major and whose mental state is one of reckless indifference.”

At least seven people have been executed in the United States since 1985 for being accomplices in crimes during which one of their partners committed murder, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Three of those were executed in Texas.

David R. Dow, a law professor in Houston who oversees the Texas Defenders Project, which is trying to forestall the execution, said he doubted Mr. Wood was mentally competent to stand trial, much less that he knew in advance the murder would happen. In addition, Mr. Dow said, he did not receive proper legal representation during the sentencing phase.

“This case has in it virtually every feature that makes the death penalty system in Texas so scandalous,” he said.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

How much harm will the TX decision to refuse 2 foreign nationals their rights due to the Vienna Conventions do to US citizens abroad?


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has expressed serious concern over the decision by authorities in Texas to proceed with the execution of Mexican national José Ernesto Medellín -- despite an order to the contrary by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Medellín was executed by lethal injection on 5 August.

OHCHR stresses that the United States has an international legal obligation to comply with decisions of the ICJ, an obligation which cannot be set aside because of domestic constitutional arrangements. The Office also notes that the ICJ orders remain valid for another 50 Mexican nationals on death row in the United States.

OHCHR adds that the finality of the death penalty makes it essential that it is applied with scrupulous attention to the safeguards set down by international law, including access to consular services by foreign nationals.

Abstract from "Protecting them protects us" (LA Times, 8/4/08)

In one of his earliest comedies, Woody Allen had a stereotypical pompous U.S. ambassador bellow to an equally stereotypical group of thuggish Eastern European cops that no American could be dragged off and shot without his personal approval.

The ambassador's shout was an understandable, if tortured, explication of something we all know and value: Our diplomatic and consular officials overseas have a primordial responsibility to protect the rights and interests of our citizens traveling and working abroad. The right of people traveling abroad to have immediate assistance from their consulates is so basic that it is enshrined in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a global treaty endorsed by the United States and about 170 other nations.

No citizen is more in need of consular support than one who faces the terrifying ordeal of arrest and imprisonment under a foreign legal system. Immediate access to a consular representative provides trustworthy guidance through the morass of a bewildering judicial process and affords a secure link to home. In some parts of the world, consular assistance is all that stands between foreign prisoners and abuse, torture or even death in custody.

Because thousands of U.S. citizens are jailed abroad every year (sometimes for no good reason), anything that diminishes the power of American consuls to assist them in their time of need is cause for concern. Yet current developments in our own nation are threatening the power of American consuls.[...]

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, in the Medellin vs. Texas decision issued in March, held that although the United States -- and its individual states -- are indeed bound by international law to comply with the International Court of Justice decision, neither that decision nor President Bush's directive is directly enforceable in domestic courts without action on the part of Congress. On July 14, legislation was introduced in the House calling for the implementation of the ICJ's judgment. On July 16, the U.N. court again issued an order directing the United States to prevent the imminent execution of five of the Mexican nationals on death row in Texas.

Thus far, Texas has refused to stay its hand until Congress can act, and instead is proceeding toward the execution Tuesday of Jose Medellin, one of the Mexican nationals.

So we now find ourselves on the brink of an irrevocable violation of the most important treaty governing consular assistance for our citizens detained in other countries. A failure to comply with this most basic of treaty commitments would significantly impair the ability of our diplomats and leaders to protect the interests -- individual and collective -- of Americans abroad. Were the tables turned -- American citizens arrested abroad and denied consular access, with an ICJ judgment requiring review of those cases for prejudice, and another nation refusing to comply -- our leaders would rightly demand that compliance be forthcoming.[...]

This article was written before Jose Medellin and Heliberto Chi were executed - Texas did exactly what the author of this article had feared. And it's not the first time the United States did not act due to the international treaties it had signed. Just think of the brothers LeGrand for example. It seems as if the American authorities want to send a signal to other countries that the US definitely does not care about these international treaties....

The only thing which seems to be left for all of us to do is to pray that other countries don't take the United States for an example on how to implement international treaties since this could actually be endangering the lives of innocent people who happen to get arrested abroad

Monday, August 18, 2008

What forgiving can do for you

Katherine M. Piderman, Ph.D., staff chaplain at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., discusses forgiveness
An abstract of the article "Forgiveness: How to let go of grudges and bitterness" from the website of the Mayo Clinic

[...]But when you don't practice forgiveness, you may be the one who pays most dearly. By embracing forgiveness, you embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. [...]

What is forgiveness?

There's no one definition of forgiveness. But in general, forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentments and thoughts of revenge. Forgiveness is the act of untying yourself from thoughts and feelings that bind you to the offense committed against you. This can reduce the power these feelings otherwise have over you, so that you can a live freer and happier life in the present. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you.

Doesn't forgiving someone mean you're forgetting or condoning what happened?

Absolutely not! Forgiving isn't the same as forgetting what happened to you. The act that hurt or offended you may always remain a part of your life. But forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, positive parts of your life. Forgiveness also doesn't mean that you deny the other person's responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn't minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act.

What are the benefits of forgiving someone?

Researchers have recently become interested in studying the effects of being unforgiving and being forgiving. Evidence is mounting that holding on to grudges and bitterness results in long-term health problems. Forgiveness, on the other hand, offers numerous benefits, including:

- Lower blood pressure
- Stress reduction
- Less hostility
- Better anger management skills
- Lower heart rate
- Lower risk of alcohol or substance abuse
- Fewer depression symptoms
- Fewer anxiety symptoms
- Reduction in chronic pain
- More friendships
- Healthier relationships
- Greater religious or spiritual well-being
- Improved psychological well-being
How do I know it's time to try to embrace forgiveness?

When we hold on to pain, old grudges, bitterness and even hatred, many areas of our lives can suffer. When we're unforgiving, it's we who pay the price over and over. We may bring our anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience. Our lives may be so wrapped up in the wrong that we can't enjoy the present. [...]The bottom line is that you may often feel miserable in your current life.[...]

Sunday, August 17, 2008

After such knowledge; what forgiveness?
Think now
History has many cunning passages,
Contrived corridors
And issue, deceives with wispering ambitions
Guides us by vanities.
Think now
She gives when our attention is distracted
And what she gives, she gives with such supple confusion
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

T. S. Elliot

Restorative Justice

Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Restorative Justice

What is restorative justice?

Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behaviour. It is best accomplished through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders.
Practices and programs reflecting restorative purposes will respond to crime by:

- identifying and taking steps to repair harm,
- involving all stakeholders, and
- transforming the traditional relationship between communities and their governments in responding to crime.

Some of the programmes and outcomes typically identified with restorative justice include:

- Victim offender mediation
- Conferencing
- Circles
- Victim assistance
- Ex-offender assistance
- Restitution
- Community service

TAKE - the movie

Take deals with the controversial topics of crime, forgiveness, and punishment. It offers a riveting view of the human side of crime. We meet Ana, the mother of a child killed during an armed robbery, and Saul, the gambling addict who committed that crime. In the course of the movie we come to see that a criminal act is much more than "breaking the law." It is also a destructive act that wounds victims, communities, and even perpetrators.

In the movie's climactic scene, Ana asks to meet with Saul. The prison authorities are reluctant to give permission, but eventually relent. It is during the meeting that both find release from the burdens of the past.

Restorative justice is a worldwide movement that, like Take, focuses attention on the human dimensions of crime. Its goal is to help victims, offenders and others touched by crime find a measure of healing and resolution. This may be accomplished through victim assistance and support, sentences of restitution or other ways of making amends, reintegration of ex-offenders into society as productive members, and so forth.

How it works…

The hallmark programs associated with restorative justice offer victims, offenders, and others the opportunity to meet together and talk about the crime, its aftermath and their future intentions. A trained facilitator is responsible to prepare the parties for this meeting and to help them as necessary in the course of the meeting.

Some states allow these restorative encounters to take place in prison. The experience can be life-changing, allowing the parties to move past the event that has defined their lives for so long and begin a new, more meaningful future. However, many states will not allow these visits, even when it is something that the victim has requested.

Where it works…

This year over 600,000 inmates will be released from prison. More than two-thirds will be rearrested within 3 years.

Where restorative justice is allowed to work, it has many benefits compared to ordinary criminal justice. It:

- substantially reduces repeat offending for many offenders,
- doubles the number offences brought to justice,
- reduces criminal justice system costs,
- provides victims and offenders with more satisfaction
- reduces crime victims' post-traumatic stress symptoms, and
- reduces victims' desire for revenge.

To hear the interview on NPR's "Talk Of The Nation" with Director Charles Oliver and Minnie Driver discussing Restorative Justice: click here.

To learn more about Restorative Justice, please visit

Why Forgive?

Holding on to anger, resentment and hurt only gives you tense muscles, a headache and a sore jaw from clenching your teeth. Forgiveness gives you back the laughter and the lightness in your life.
- Joan Lunden

In the movie TAKE, Ana's forgiveness of Saul plays an important role in the healing of the victim and deeper repentance by the offender. Whether it is for a petty indifference or a violent crime, forgiveness can help a person let go of anger and resentment, and receive peace. This doesn't mean that the injustice is forgotten or cheapened, or justice mitigated. In fact, forgiveness emphasizes the personal harm done through a particular action. Rather, forgiveness is an important step on the road to restoring a broken person and often a broken relationship.

The site hopes that it can serve as a bridge in helping you move towards healing forgiveness; to experience wholeness again and have broken relationships restored. If you've been wronged or you've wronged another, use this site to reach out or simply create a moment to finally release yourself of harbored anger and resentment. We can't always forgive a person face-to-face; here is your chance to begin the healing process.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

How can a 7-year-old get on the National Terrorist Watch List?

Why is 7-year-old John Anderson from Minneapolis on the national Terrorist Watch List?
1. He pushed Tommy too hard on the playground.
2. His July 4th birthday means he distracts other Americans from
celebrating their country.
3. John didn't pick up the blocks during playtime.
The truth is that we don't know how he got on the Terrorist Watch List. Or if he can get off it. It took an Act of Congress to get Nelson Mandela, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, off the list.

This ever-growing and ineffective Watch List demonstrates what's wrong with the U.S. government's current approach to security:
it's unfair and a waste of resources. And when our government wastes time and money like this, we are all put in more danger -- not less.

Take our national security quiz to learn about other frightening national security "tools."

The questions above might be light hearted, but the problems Americans face everyday due to overzealous security measures are real.

According to USA Today:

John Anderson of Minneapolis, [now 7] was first stopped at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in 2004, when his family took him for his first airplane ride to Disney World. "We checked in at the ticket counter, and the woman said in a stern voice, 'Who is John Anderson?' " says his mother, Christine Anderson. "I pointed to
my stroller."

Her son is allowed to fly. But because his name is flagged, his family cannot print out a boarding pass for him online and he must check in at the ticket counter so an airline official can see that he's a child.

Learn about more outrageous DHS behaviors by taking the ACLU's security quiz today.

After you take the quiz, make sure you forward it to your friends and family so they can learn about these measures which are supposed to protect us, but instead strip us of our basic rights with no additional security.

Thank you,

Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director
© ACLU, 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor New York, NY 10004

You might be wondering why you find this message on a blog which is created to inform about the death penalty. Well, naturally 7-year-old John Anderson does not face execution but his story shows very well how irrationally some of the measures originally designed to help the American public are applied. This Terrorist Watch list was designed to make America a saver place to live but instead it threads the rights of thousands of people. People are not perfect and therefore no law will ever be applied perfectly no matter what it was designed for. John's family can't print out a boarding pass for him online which is surely uncomfortable and naturally a slap into the face of his and his family's rights but at least his life and feedom are not in danger.

But there are other laws as well and none of them being applied absolutely correctly just because the people who have to apply them are human as well. Let's just think a minute about the consequences one of these other laws - the death penalty - being applied just as humanly faulty in a case. Do we really want to accept these?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Only 6 days left to save the life of a man who has never killed anyone - 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, nor was he even in the building when the shooting took place. Furthermore, there was no way Jeff could anticipate that a murder would occur.

The actual shooter in this case, Daniel Reneau, has already been executed by the state of Texas.

In addition to the fact that Jeff did not commit, nor plan, the murder there were several errors made at Jeff's trial, and as a direct result of these errors Jeff did not receive the fair trial he was entitled to.

Jeff also has mental and learning disabilities, dating back to his childhood, that allowed him to be taken advantage of not only by the shooter, but by the prosecution in this case as well.

For more information about Jeff's case, check out his website

Mailing Address

Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 12428
Austin, Texas 78711-2428


Information and Referral Hotline: (800) 843-5789 [for Texas callers]
Citizen's Opinion Hotline: (800) 252-9600 [for Texas callers]
Information and Referral and Opinion Hotline: (512) 463-1782 [for Austin, Texas and out-of-state callers]
Office of the Governor Main Switchboard: (512) 463-2000 [office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST]
Citizen's Assistance Telecommunications Device
If you are using a telecommunication device for the deaf (TDD), call 711 to reach Relay Texas

Office of the Governor Fax: (512) 463-1849

Please help us stop the insanity of state sanctioned murder!! Contact Governor Rick Perry and the Board of Pardons and Parole.

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
General Counsel's Office
8610 Shoal Creek Boulevard
Austin, Texas 78758

Phone (512) 406-5852
Fax (512) 467-0945


http://www.thepetit wood-from- the-executioner

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mother of 8 goes to jail joyfully

by Patrick O'Neill

My wife, Mary Rider, a mother of eight children, received a 15-day jail sentence for praying during a North Carolina execution.

Mary, cofounder of the Fr. Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker House in Garner, N.C., was sentenced to 15 days in the Wake County Jail on August 7, stemming from her August 18, 2006 arrest for trespass during a protest of the execution of Sammy Flippen at Raleigh's Central Prison.

Mary and three others attempted to symbolically enter the prison to stop the execution. At a police line, the four knelt in prayer in the driveway where witnesses enter the prison.

Mary, 48, who has six children age 14 or less, was sentenced to jail after telling Wake County Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan that her conscience would not allow her to pay a $100 fine and $130 court costs into a system that oppressed the poor and carried out executions in her name. A social worker, Mary told the judge she would agree to perform community service in lieu of the fine and court costs.

The judge, a firm and cold man, who frequently undercut Mary's attempts to defend herself based on Catholic Moral Teaching and the First Amendment, seemed to take personally Mary's conviction that the "judicial system" is racist and oppressive.

"Ms. Rider has stated that the judicial system is one too flawed and too imperfect," Morgan said. "I am a member of this system."

By agreeing to give Mary community service, he was in a sense validating her criticisms of the system, Morgan said.

"It's easy to open your wallet, pay that money and walk out of court," Mary's pro bono lawyer, Tim Vanderweert, told the judge. "It's much more difficult to perform community service."

In the course of the three-day jury trial, Morgan did not allow expert witness - renowned Constitutional law professor Dan Pollitt - to testify to the jury as to why Mary's actions in trying to stop Sammy's execution were legally valid under the Constitution. Doing so "would invade the providence of the jury," Morgan said.

He also limited the testimony of Duke Divinity School professor of Christian ethics Stanley Hauerwas, who tried to make the case that Mary's actions in defense of life were justified by Papal decree and Church teaching.

"I am a Christian theologian, and the subject of theology is God," Hauerwas told the court. "Catholic moral teaching is the longest tradition of Church history. Since Christians are a people who worship a person who died at the hands of the state, that being capital punishment, Christianity' s relationship to the state is at the heart of what Catholic ethics is about ... Christians are not allowed to give their ultimate loyalties to their state."

In her testimony, Mary shared a story about a time she was called to jury duty at age 18 in Eastern North Carolina. Although she was not selected to sit for the capital murder trial, Mary, who is also a mitigation specialist, said she was surprised to learn that only jurors who supported the death penalty could be seated.

"The only people in the jury are those who believe firmly in the death penalty," Mary said. "It seems like you're stacking the cards against the defendant already."

The judge instructed the jury to only consider the question of whether Mary trespassed or not. Although the jurors were out more than an hour, those initially opposed to conviction were won over. One juror told me after the verdict that since they didn't get to hear Prof. Pollitt, they were unable to acquit her.

In her sentencing, Mary read the story from Acts when Peter said he "must obey God and not men."

"I am choosing to suffer for my faith and fidelity to Jesus," Mary told the judge. "Spending time in jail for me would be an honor. Rather than a deterrent, it would be a privilege to encourage others to do the same."

The judge said he had no choice but to sentence Mary to 15 days. The jailers placed handcuffs on Mary as her children openly sobbed on the front row of the gallery.

"You're lucky to have a wife like that, and you're lucky to have a mother like that," Professor Pollitt told me and my daughter, Veronica.

Indeed we are.

Mary is expected to be in the Wake County Jail until Aug. 21. To write her:
Mary Rider
Wake County Jail
P.O. Box 2419
Raleigh, NC 27602

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kirk Bloodsworth and The Justice Project

Kirk Bloodsworth is the first person sentenced to death row to be exonerated by DNA evidence.

Kirk’s struggle serves as a powerful illustration of the systemic failures within the criminal justice system that can — and do — lead to wrongful convictions of innocent defendants.

More information about Kirk, his story and related items is available in Protecting the Innocent: Opportunities for Reform, a document prepared by The Justice Project on ways that progress can be made in addressing the systemic problems that played a large part in Kirk’s wrongful conviction.

JUST IN: The Justice Project Releases Policy Review on Post-Conviction DNA Testing

An announcement just came today from The Justice Project -- so didn't want to miss getting this sent off since The Journey includes a number of those who've been released when years later the findings show they had no connection to the crime for which they were imprisoned on Death Row...The Justice Project has just announced that they are releasing Improving Access to Post-Conviction DNA Testing: A Policy Review. This policy review explains the problems surrounding post-conviction DNA testing policies and procedures and identifies the best practices for states to adopt to ensure that post-conviction DNA testing contributes to a more accurate criminal justice system.

Although just sent out today by e-newsletter--the following report was written yesterday...

Post-Conviction DNA Testing Shouldn’t Depend on Miracles
August 12, 2008

By John F. Terzano

By now everyone knows that DNA testing is a powerful scientific tool for proving guilt or innocence in our criminal justice system. Often post-conviction DNA testing provides the only evidence that can correct the injustice of wrongful conviction.

But what if all the biological evidence is destroyed while you’re still in prison? What if there is evidence but it’s not discovered until after state-imposed deadline for seeking DNA testing? What if the state denies your petition for testing because you accepted a plea bargain to avoid a harsher sentence for a crime you didn’t commit? And what if you’re indigent and can’t afford an attorney to help navigate the complex legal and scientific issues involved in obtaining a DNA test?

The sad truth is that it often takes a series of miracles to gain access to post-conviction DNA testing. That’s because our criminal justice system continues to place significant obstacles in the way of post-conviction DNA testing that could determine whether the wrong people have been convicted and punished for crimes they didn’t commit.

Today, The Justice Project is releasing Increasing Assess to Post-Conviction DNA Testing: A Policy Review. This policy review explains the problems surrounding post-conviction DNA testing policies and procedures and identifies the best practices for states to adopt to ensure that post-conviction DNA testing contributes to a more accurate criminal justice system and restores public confidence in the system’s ability to correct its own errors.

To date, more than 200 people - including 16 who were sentenced to death - have been proven innocent by DNA testing. In many of those cases, the same DNA test helped bring the real perpetrators to justice.

But seven states - Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts, Mississippi, South Carolina, South Dakota and Oklahoma - don’t even have laws on the books allowing for post-conviction DNA testing. And those that do have laws fall short of what is needed to ensure that DNA testing can be used effectively to correct the injustice of wrongful conviction.

All but 12 states and the District of Columbia lack statutes requiring the preservation of evidence throughout an inmate’s incarceration. An investigative series this year by The Columbus Dispatch found that “evidence had been lost or destroyed nearly two-thirds of the time that prosecutors agreed to search for it because Ohio does not require evidence to be catalogued and saved.” States should require the preservation of biological evidence throughout a defendant’s sentence and devise standards regarding the custody of evidence.

States should also ensure that all inmates with a DNA-based innocence claim may petition for DNA testing at any time without regard to plea, confession, self-implication, the nature of the crime, or previous unfavorable test results. Nearly a dozen of the more than 200 DNA exonerees initially plead guilty, and 50 purportedly confessed to crimes they did not commit. And because DNA testing technology continues to improve, a defendant’s right to request testing must not be subject to time limitations. If new technology develops that might change the outcome of a test, the test should be performed.

The complexity of the petitioning process also creates an unreasonable burden for a wrongfully convicted person who needs DNA testing to prove his or her innocence. The steps involved in obtaining DNA testing are difficult even for experienced advocates. That’s why states should provide counsel and cover the cost of post-conviction DNA testing for indigent petitioners.

These are just a few of the steps that need to be taken. As with any good policy, the benefits of post-conviction DNA testing statutes outweigh the costs. While improving access to post-conviction DNA testing will require states to incur some initial costs, those costs are minimal and could end up saving states money in the long run.

The federal government recognized the importance of post-conviction DNA testing with the passage of the Innocence Protection Act (IPA) in 2004. The IPA includes the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program, which authorizes $25 million over five years to help states defray the cost of post-conviction DNA testing. The program is named for Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, the first person sentenced to death to be exonerated by DNA evidence.

In Bloodsworth’s case, the DNA test results not only proved that he did not sexually assault and murder nine-year-old Dawn Hamilton, they also identified the real perpetrator who then confessed to the crime. But it took another series of miracles for that to happen. It was only through a chance encounter that Bloodsworth’s attorney learned that the trial judge had kept some of the evidence in a cardboard box in his chambers. And the attorney paid for the testing out of his own pocket.

Our criminal justice system is too fraught with error to rely on miracles to find the truth. Post-conviction DNA testing serves the interests of fairness, accuracy and public confidence in the criminal justice system, and states should make every effort to facilitate testing for defendants claiming innocence.

(Find much more about Kirk Noble Bloodworth's case, his book and more at The Justice Project where you will also be able to sign up for free E-Newsletters)