Friday, December 18, 2009

US expected to end '09 with fewest death sentences since '76!

The Death Penalty Information Center released the “The Death Penalty in 2009: Year End Report” on December 18, noting that the country is expected to finish 2009 with the fewest death sentences since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Eleven states considered abolishing the death penalty this year, a significant increase in legislative activity from previous years, as the high costs and lack of measurable benefits associated with this punishment troubled lawmakers.

“The annual number of death sentences in the U.S. has dropped for seven straight years and is 60% less than in the 1990s,” said Richard Dieter, the report’s author and DPIC’s executive director. “In the last two years, three states have abolished capital punishment and a growing number of states are asking whether it's worth keeping. This entire decade has been marked by a declining use of the death penalty." There were 106 death sentences in 2009 compared with a high of 328 - 1994.

New Mexico became the 15th state to abolish the death penalty, and 9 men who were sentenced to death were exonerated in 2009, the second highest number of exonerations since the death penalty was reinstated. The total number of exonerations since 1973 has now reached 139.

To READ more GO to Death Penalty Information Center go to deathpenaltyinfo dot org

here

Also find this report at NPR dot org for same morning of day posted here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Seasons Greeting by Bill Pelke and new Journey of Hope Newsletter

Seasons Greetings,

The Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing hopes that 2009 has been a good year for you and that 2010 will be even better.

We would like to thank each of you for the gifts the Journey has received this year. We asked for people to invest in the Journey and many of you did. The accompanying newsletter reports what we have been able to do with your investment.

Journeys in Montana, Kentucky, Indiana and Germany were all very successful. The Journey of Hope is rebuilding its web site www.journeyofhope.org with the assistance of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP). The Journey of Hope blog http://www.thejourneyofhope.blogspot.com is one of the best in the abolition movement.

In 2010 the Journey will be participating in the NCADP conference in Louisville, Kentucky and the 17th annual Fast & Vigil June 29-July 2 in Washington DC.

Several trips to Europe are in the works including the 4th World Congress of the World Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, of which the Journey is a founding member. Amnesty International Germany will be hosting a three-week Journey in Southern Germany starting the last week of April.

Many hearts have been touched and many minds have been changed by the Journey of Hope witnesses. You can help us reach more people in this coming year with your tax-deductible gift. Help us to share our stories while putting a compassionate human face on the issue of the death penalty.

This answer is love and compassion for all of humanity and the Journey of Hope delivers that message better than anyone. Please help us to get the message out to more people. Step by step we will win the battle.

Have a great new year,

Thank you,

Peace,
Bill Pelke, President
Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing

Please find the our new winter newsletter here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

For Those Who Died Loving the Powerless

photo credit to fotopedia here

A Poem to be Written Collectively...

There has been a terrible accident and so far at least four people, friends of my friends have died. (Very dedicated activists) I'm feeling SO deeply for all involved. More on the specifics later but I felt sure that those here on The Journey Blog would remember similar occasions and feelings and would have something to say. For now, the partial line which keeps coming to me is just the beginning of a poem...

For those who died loving the powerless...

I'm wondering if this poem might best be written COLLECTIVELY with various here who are activists and have a poetic-bent? - or even those with deeply-feeling hearts and souls - those who's own memories of loss are still unresolved or resolved or freshly remembered? Other activists who happen to come by today? Any who have gone through losing sisters, brothers, companions on this journey? Maybe we would write this together in a universal manner without details except the most common and without any nationality or religion or even ideology specified in this one case.

Here's another version of the above line:
Because of those who died loving...

Send your feelings and memories in ANY of the following languages as I now have people I know in each of them willing to translate:

French, German, Urdu, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Teso (Ugandan), and some languages from other African nations...Or even other languages for which together we might find translators?

No need even to send full lines or stanzas...just analogies, feelings, a line remembered from powerful literature or film, a partial line which comes to you with depth and emotion startling memory of your own?

I will try my best to somehow form what I am able to do - with or without the help of other poets - into One Poem or some sort of unified form...THIS IS TO BE AN ANONOMOUS EFFORT so I will not be giving credit in the poem itself to individuals. But I thank you each ahead of time!

As I was speaking with a lady who sold used books about this recent loss of friend across the world and mentioning the creature which may have been the reason for tragic accident (Perhaps the most detailed report said it was that it was a donkey.

Yet for the sake of universal connections any of us driving along such a road may well have encountered a similarly powerles deer or goat or a sheep?) she said "Well many consider something as powerless as such a creature to be without value and yet, who knows what that animal may have meant to the family to whom it belonged?" And suddenly my tears kept flowing as I imagined that the driver (and possibly the riders) collectively chose not to hit this creature for these reasons...as people whose life together was based on loving the powerless in many forms.


Children protesting the violence which kept their schools closed in Peshawar
found on news service IRIN February 2, 2006


Rural scene from a Day Out (on internet public space)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Extending Grace and Forgiveness to Those Who Harm You - Part Two

C. Henry Smith presentation

Part Two (See Part One in the last post here just below)

II. Choosing not to press charges can be the first step in forgiving those who harm you.

•In Scott’s death, his family said that this choice was very difficult and that there were times when they regretted it but they were glad that they chose to show grace to the teenager.
◦This choice allowed them to heal and know that they made a better situation out of a difficult one.
•In accidents, it is often the case that the person at fault is already regretting his or her actions regardless of if they could have been changed.
◦The pastor that hit the car Hollis was riding in did not do anything wrong other than failing to be completely observant.

■Anyone could have made that mistake and now he has to live with it every day of his life.
◦Forgiveness also creates bonds that otherwise would not be able to form.
■In the Amish shooting, Roberts’ family was able to mourn side by side with the Amish.
■His wife was among the few outsiders that were invited to one of the funerals.

◦When victims do not take an offensive approach and attack the family of the person who did the wrong, the family of the offender is allowed to cope and grieve as well as realize that they are not necessarily at fault.

(Transition: While forgiveness and grace steer toward emotional healing, they also are essential parts of the Christian faith.)

III. Now, you may be thinking that situations involving the Amish and pastors require different expectations but all Christians are called to show mercy.

•Bill Pelke struggled deeply with making room for both his hatred and his faith when his grandmother was killed.
•Ruth Pelke, a 78 year old woman, was robbed and murdered when she brought four teenage girls to her house to teach a Bible lesson.
◦One of these girls, Paula Cooper, was convicted of stabbing Ruth 33 times.

■A year after the murder, Cooper, at age 16, was sentenced to death row.
◦Ruth’s grandson, Bill Pelke battled for a long time with the idea of her murderer being put to death.
■At first he was glad and thought she was getting what she deserved.
■Then, after thinking through the words Jesus said during his crucifixion “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”, he realized forgiving Cooper was the only way to bring peace to himself.
■Pelke then fought to have Cooper removed from death row.
■Her sentence was changed from the death penalty to 60 years in prison as a result of Pelke’s work.
■To this he responded “Revenge is not the answer. It’s never the answer. The answer is love and compassion for all of humanity.”
◦In the Lord’s Prayer it says “Forgive us our sins AS we forgive those who sin against us.
■Why should God forgive us if we cannot extend similar forgiveness to others?

Conclusion

I. In conclusion, the cases of Scott and Hollis need to make us realize that accidents and flaws in judgment can happen to anyone.

•The bible says “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.”
◦Wouldn’t you like to think that if you were in a similar situation as the teenager or the old pastor, mercy and forgiveness would be extended to you?

II. While Roberts and Cooper do not deserve to be forgiven, which of us does?

•By the Amish community and Bill Pelke offering grace to the families of those who hurt them, both sides were given the opportunity to rebuild their lives.
•This grace is not unlike the grace the old hymn Amazing Grace proclaims.

◦The third verse reads:
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.
•Go and extend Grace to others as it has been extended by God unto you.

Bibliography

“Amish grandfather: 'We must not think evil of this man'
from powerfulnews dot com 5 Oct. 2006 and 26 March 2009 GO here

Burke, Burke. "Amish Search for Healing, Forgiveness After 'The Amish 9/11’ Religion News. 4 Oct. 2006. Also, 26 March 2009 Pewforum.org GO here

Dougherty, Emily. “After murders, families find a healing path.” Mennonite Weekly Review 23 March 2009. 26 March 2009. GO here

McElroy, Damien. “Amish killer's widow thanks families of victims for forgiveness”. telegraph.co.uk. 17 Oct 2006. 26 March 2009. GO here

Newton, John. “Amazing Grace”. Hymnal: A Worship Book. Brethren Press: 1992.

Bluffton University - 1 University Drive • Bluffton, Ohio 45817-2104 • 419-358-3000 / 800-488-3257

On Grace and Forgiveness to Those Who Harm - Part One

C. Henry Smith presentation: Extending Grace and Forgiveness to Those Who Harm You

Part One

Rachel Giovarelli
April 2009

Introduction

I. On October 2nd, 2006, Charles Roberts barged into West Nickel Mines School, an Amish school house in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania.

•After holding several young girls captive, he proceeded to kill five of them, execution style, (three were pronounced dead at the scene while two others died at the hospital). He also seriously injured five others.
◦Roberts then committed suicide as the police were swarming the school house.
•In most other school shootings, the families of the victims lash out against the perpetrators.
◦They threaten to sue the families of the attackers and hatred fills their hearts.
•But this is not how the Amish reacted.
◦Instead they chose to forgive Roberts of what some would consider an unforgivable crime.
■These young girls, ranging from age 6 to 13, had never done anything to Roberts.
■Their deaths were those of innocents.

◦A grandfather of one of dead emphasized to his fellow mourners that "We must not think evil of this man.”

◦An Amish father proclaimed that "[Roberts] had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he's standing before a just God."

◦Many of the Amish visited the family of Charles Roberts after the incident to comfort them and one family even called to offer forgiveness only a few hours after the attack.

◦Roberts’ funeral was attended by more than 30 people of the Amish community and the community put aside a fund for his family.

II. Some have argued that in this circumstance forgiveness is inappropriate and that the Amish community is trying to “deny the existence of evil”.

•Maybe some of you believe this, in which case I ask that you remain open-minded and consider a few questions.
•Why is forgiveness such a strange concept for our world?
•How can we justify criticizing those who are forgiving of others?

III. One of the common ways victims show forgiveness is by not pressing charges against the one who has wronged them or by arguing in favor of the offender to receive less or no punishment.

•While the State does not always make this possible, in this speech I will provide examples of extending forgiveness, explain the benefits, and apply it to the Christian way.

(Transition: Two of these examples are personal.)

Body

I. When I was very young, I learned of a car accident that occurred very close to where I live.

•A. Scott Nafziger, the oldest child of my former pastor, was riding home with his grandfather, grandmother and mother when another teenager ran a stop sign and hit the car he was riding in.
◦Scott, his grandfather and the girlfriend of teenager who hit them did not survive.
◦The crash devastated my church and Scott’s family.
◦This boy that so many had watched grow up, perished at such a young age, the wrong time in his life.
•Two Christmases ago was the first time I learned Scott’s family didn’t press charges against the faulted teenager.
◦Scott’s father even went to court to testify for the young driver, asking the court not to send him to jail.

■It was because of his testimony that this young man received probation and lost his license instead of going to jail for involuntary manslaughter.

◦This story of forgiveness seems almost expected since Scott’s father was the pastor of my church but I only learned what happened through a similar incident.

•Christmas Eve, the day before I found this out, one of my friends who attended a high school very close to mine was killed in a comparable accident.

◦The driver was an old man who did not see the stop sign at a busy corner.
■Hollis Richer was coming home from Christmas Eve service with her boyfriend’s family when their car was hit.
■Hollis, along with her boyfriend’s father, was killed in the accident and her boyfriend’s older brother was paralyzed.
•The reason this incident brought up Scott’s accident was because the driver that hit Hollis’s car was a retired pastor at a church out of town.
◦The pastor was horrified at his mistake and the consequences of it.
■Hollis’s family, like Scott’s, chose not to press charges but the case is still pending.

•In both of these situations, the victims’ families chose to not press charges even though this decision was not necessarily easy for them.

(Transition: Doing the right thing is not always easy but it can help both sides move on.)

Blogger's note, Part Two coming...qualifier, some situations of course need pressing of charges in worst cases so as to protect others from similar harm - hopefully with law officials who follow rule of law and justice according to the highest rulings and methods.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

As execution date is getting close victims' family members speak out about their opposition of the death penalty

In 1994 Matthew Eric Wrinkles his estranged wife, Debra, and her brother and sister-in-law. His execution date is set for this friday.

But while the parents of one of the victims, Debra, want to see Wrinkles die, the mother and two of the daughters of the other two victims speak about their opposition of the death penalty.

Victim's mom, Mary Winnecke:

As a devout catholic, Mary Winnecke has always been opposed to the death penalty.
But her faith got a major test when Eric Wrinkles murdered her daughter.

Wrinkles is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection before dawn Friday at the state prison in Michigan City, Indiana.

In 1994, Wrinkles murdered Winnecke's daughter and son-in-law, Natalie and Tony Fulkerson -- as well as his own wife Debra.

Debra had left her abusive husband when he broke into the Fulkerson's home and shot them dead.

Winnecke told Fox7 she won't be in Michigan City for the execution. She'll be home ... praying for Wrinkles.

Read and watch Video of interview here: Wrinkles Execution: Exclusive Interview with Mary Winnecke

Victim's daughter, Tracy Hobgood:

There were four children and one teenager in the Evansville home at the time of a 1994 bloody murder scene. 15-years after the incident Tracy Hobgood speaks out. She says her aunt Natalie died saving her life.

Tracy Hobgood was 19-years-old when her family was murdered in front of her. She was living with her aunt and uncle Tony and Natalie Fulkerson. Debbie Wrinkles and her children had recently moved in to get away from Debbie's husband Eric. Tracy says she'll never forget the night Eric Wrinkles busted through the back door.

"He ran to back bedroom, that's where he shot Tony then I heard Debbie say, 'You shot my brother'. Then, I heard gunfire and I didn't hear Debbie no more," said Hobgood. That's when Natalie came yelling for Tracy to get out. Eric Wrinkles followed close behind. "We were struggling at the door to get out. She was pushing me out first and there was a gun shot," she said. Natalie had gotten in between Tracy and Wrinkles. "There were a few gunshots before and I felt Natalie start to go down she pushed me out the door that's when I ran down the street."

Tracy escaped with her life but the memories still haunt her. "I hear this countdown until the execution and it just gets harder," she said. Tracy says she doesn't believe in the death penalty. She says she forgave Eric Wrinkles on March 14th of this year. That day she wrote a letter to him to which he replied. She's written him three times since the 1994 slayings. The third letter was sent Monday, Wrinkles will receive it Wednesday evening. Tracy's final words contain a mixture of confusion, pain and forgiveness.

Tracy will join other family members at the prayer vigil at Evansville's Holy Redeemer Church Thursday night and Friday morning.

Read and watch Video of interview here: Wrinkles Execution: Exclusive Interview with Tracy Hobgood

Victim's daughter, Kim Dillman:

Kim Dillman was 9 years old in 1994 when her uncle Eric wrinkles murdered her parents, Tony and Natalie Fulkerson and his own wife Debra.

Wrinkles will die by lethal injection before dawn Friday morning at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.

When Tony and Natalie Fulkerson got married, Eric Wrinkles was the best man.
The two families were very close.

Kim would often spend the night at the Wrinkles home. Eric would baby sit Kim.
She never saw the side of him she saw on the night of murders.

Debra had left her abusive and drug-using husband and moved in with the Fulkerson's for protection.

Wrinkles broke into the home on Evansville's north side, shot Tony, Natalie and finally Debra.

Kim had been asleep in her room.

Kim is opposed to the death penalty.

For one, she says it's just morally wrong.
Two, Wrinlkes won't be the only person who gets hurt. His two children will lose their father after having lost their mother 15 years ago.

Read and watch Video of interview here: Wrinkles Execution: Exclusive Interview with Kim Dillman

Source: tristatehomepage.com

Monday, December 07, 2009

Reflections from Mozambique #3

By Art Laffin
Maputo, Dec. 2


Today marks the 29th anniversary of the of the martyrdom of Jean Donavan, Sr.Dorothy Kazel, Sr. Ita Ford and Sr. Maura Clark-PRESENTE! They were killed in El Salvador in 1980 by a death squad because of their love for the poor, their commitment to uphold the human rights and dignity of the voiceless, and their deep fidelity to Jesus' way of unconditional love. Deo Gratias for their faithful lives of courage and hope.

I leave this morning to return to home. I am so grateful for the many experiences I've had in my short stay in Mozambique.

Yesterday, I visited the Nutrition Center (NC) in Matola, which is just outside of Maputo. The NC is part of the DREAM program which was built in 2005 by the community of Sant'Egidio (CSE). I didn't realize until yesterday that this is such an essential part of DREAM, which is an acronym for Drug Resource Enhancement Against Aids and Malnutrition. At the NC, CSE members and friends provide a refuge where the poor of the area can play, take showers and have a nutritious meal Monday through Friday. Most of the children, ages 2-early teens, are very, very poor, and many are malnourished. Most of the children where dirty clothes and many are without shoes. The NC, which is open Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. is a sanctuary for these beautiful children. There is also a School of Peace for 25 children and a small kindergarden. Yesterday, some 2,000 children came the NC. I was in awe of the several who women do most of the cooking for the children. They use the biggest deep pots I have ever seen. Every child had pasta, a small piece of beef, half an apple and clean drinking water.

I spent time with some of the very young children as we watched some of the girls play a creative game of jump rope. As i held little Januario and his baby brother on my lap, I couldn't help but think of my son Carlos, and all the other children i know and love. I also thought about the impending escalation of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and how all the billions of dollars being squandered on our sinful warmaking could be used instead to help these beautiful children at the NC.

Before leaving the NC, I had an hour meeting with a group of young people and early teens who were visiting the NC from a nearby school. I was asked to speak with them about the death penalty and nonviolence. As we sat under a mango tree, we spoke heart to heart. I also shared with the students books by Archbishop Desmund Tutu and Martin Luther King. Jr. I will always remember these special young people and our heartfelt sharing under the mango tree.

I leave Mozambique with a profound respect and deep love for all the wonderful people I have met. I am deeply grateful for the CSE for inviting me to come to Mozambique and for taking such good care of me during my visit. Everyone I have met has brought me closer to God and has helped deepen my faith in the Gospel. What a great Advent gift! My new friends of Maputo will always have a special place in my heart.

With love and gratitude,
Art

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Cities for Life

This year on Nov. 30th close to 1200 cities throughout the world illuminated a momument of their cities in an unusual way to show their support in the fight against the death penalty. The event "Cities for Life" is growing each year.

Thankfully Sant'Egidio, the organizor of the event, sent me some photos so I can share them with you.

Marienfestung in Würzburg, Germany:



Townhall of Osnabrück, Germany:



Ochsenfurt:



Justizpalast (Palace of the Judiciary), Munich, Germany





Tower of the townhall of Gelsenkirchen, Germany:



Museum of the state, Emden, Germany:



Spitalkirche in Cham:


Boizenburg:



Aschaffenburg:



Burg Het Steen, Amtwerpen, Belgium:



Townhall of Aachen, Germany:



Viersen, Germany:



Townhall of Coburg:

Shujaa Graham in Würzburg, Germany



On Nov. 30th Shujaa told his story at the University of Würzburg at Sant'Egidio's invitation. Sant'Edidio sent me some photos of the event which I will share with you but before let me tell you a bit about Shujaa for those of you who don't know him:

Shujaa Graham was born in Lake Providence, LA, where he grew up on a plantation. His family worked as share-croppers, in the segregated South of the 50s. In 1961, he moved to join his family who had moved to South Central Los Angeles, to try to build a more stable life. As a teenager, Shujaa lived through the Watts riot and experienced the police occupation of his community. In and out of trouble, he spent much of his adolescent life in juvenile institutions, until at age 18, he was sent to Soledad Prison.

Within the prison walls, Shujaa came of age, mentored by the leadership of the Black Prison movement. Shujaa taught himself to read and write, he studied history and world affairs, and became a leader of the growing movement within the California prison system, as the Black Panther Party expanded in the community.

In 1973, Shujaa was framed in the murder of a prison guard at the Deul Vocational Institute, Stockton, California. As a recognized leader within and without the prison, the community became involved in his defense, and supported him through 4 trials. Shujaa and his co-defendant, Eugene Allen, were sent to San Quentin's death row in 1976, after a second trial in San Francisco. The DA systematically excluded all African American jurors, and in 1979, the California Supreme Court overturned the death conviction.

After spending three years on death row, Shujaa and Eugene Allen, continued to fight for their innocence. A third trial ended in a hung jury, and after a fourth trial, they were found innocent. As Shujaa often says, he won his freedom and affirmed his innocence in spite of the system.

Shujaa was released in March, 1981, and continued to organize in the Bay area, building community support for the prison movement, as well as protest in the neighborhoods against police brutality.

In the following years, Shujaa moved away from the Bay area. Shujaa learned landscaping, and created his own business. He and his wife raised three children, and became part of a progressive community in Maryland.

In 1999, Shujaa was invited to speak about his experiences on Death Row at fund raiser for the Alabama Death Penalty project, sponsored by the New York Legal Aid Foundation. This was a new beginning, and provided Shujaa the opportunity to begin to tell his story, his experiences and grow through work with other death penalty opponents.













Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A Reprieve for Turkeys, But Not for People

by David C. FathiDirector, US Program, Human Rights Watch
posted Dec. 2nd, 2009 in The Huffington Post


The day before Thanksgiving, at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, President Obama officially "pardoned" two turkeys, sparing them from the chopping block and sending them to live out their days in Disneyland. This is one of those uniquely American traditions that must have our foreign friends scratching their heads. What can you say about a country where turkeys receive a presidential reprieve, while more than 3,000 human beings are awaiting death at the hands of the state?

Compare the White House turkeys' experience to Romell Broom's. On September 15 the state of Ohio tried to execute Broom by lethal injection - and failed. Prison staff struggled for more than two hours to find a vein for the needle that would deliver the deadly chemicals to stop his heart. They stuck him at least 18 times, painfully striking muscle and bone. At one point Broom covered his face with his hands and cried. Governor Ted Strickland finally ordered the execution postponed, and a federal appeals court later stayed another Ohio execution pending investigation of what it called the "disturbing issues" raised by this incident. But the state still wants to try again to kill Broom.

The United States is one of very few democracies to retain the death penalty. All of our closest allies - Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France - abolished it decades ago. And it's not just a little-used provision in US law; last year, the United States was the world's fourth-leading executioner, just behind the repressive governments of China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. There have been 48 executions in the United States so far this year, and nearly 1,200 since the start of the modern death penalty era in 1977.

The vast majority of the nearly 3,300 persons under sentence of death in the United States are on state death rows, so President Obama has no direct authority to commute their sentences. But he could use his office as a bully pulpit to urge states to abolish capital punishment, as New Jersey and New Mexico have done in the past two years. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen. President Obama supports the death penalty, writing in his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope that some crimes call for "the ultimate punishment." On the campaign trail in 2008 he went further, strongly denouncing a Supreme Court decision that invalidated the death penalty for rape and other non-homicide crimes.

Despite this disappointing lack of presidential leadership, there are signs of waning public support for the death penalty. The number of new death sentences imposed each year has fallen to about one-third the peak level of the mid-1990s. The exoneration of more than 130 death row prisoners since 1973 has created significant doubt about the reliability of the death penalty system. And at a time when yawning budget deficits are forcing deep cuts in basic government services, the enormous expense of capital punishment seems harder to justify. A 2008 study by a California state commission concluded that the state could save more than $120 million annually by abolishing the death penalty and replacing it with life in prison without possibility of parole.

It has taken many years for the world to turn its back on the death penalty, leaving the United States as one of the last holdouts. Here in the United States, progress has similarly been incremental, slow but steady. It won't happen tomorrow, but with luck, we'll eventually see the day when human beings receive as much mercy and compassion as White House turkeys.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Reflections from Mozambique

Art Laffin's brother Paul was associate director of a homeless shelter in Connecticut for 10 years before he was murdered by a mentally ill man in 1999. Art has been working against the death penalty for many years but even more actively since his brother's death.

Art, a dear member of the Journey of Hope, is in Mozambique at Sant'Egidio's invitation right now. Below are a few impressions he sent.

Reflections from Mozambique #1

Maputo, Nov. 30

I write from Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Last month i knew very little about Mozambique. Now I am immersed in my first African experience. The Community of SantÉgidio (CSE) has invited me here and, they have given me a great welcome. I've gotten to know different CSE community members during several delicious meals we've shared. I am staying at a small, modest hotel that the community uses for guests. It is still spring-time here so I'm lucky it's not too hot. But it's still hot and humid during the day.

Yesterday, I walked through a good part of the city with CSE members Joao and Roque. Joao speaks some English and has been very good in explaining different things to me. The offical language here is Portuguese and Changana is the local language. I saw some of the government buildings, the main hospital, the central train station and the main market. We also walked a while along a roadway overlooking the beautiful Indian ocean. In the various neighborhoods, there are pockets of extreme poverty and substandard housing. Near the business district and along the seaside the more affluent resisde in good housing. There are also many street beggars and people try to sell you things. As you get into the downtown area there are many shops and stores. Many of the streets are named after Marxist and socialist leaders, from Karl Marx to Salvador Allende.

Marie, who is an CSE member, and I went to Mass last night at a Franciscan parish. It was great to worship with so many new friends on this first Advent Sunday and the singing was beautiful.

This morning I was given a tour the DREAM Center, which was established in 2002 by the CSE to help people with HIV/AIDS and other illnesses. This DREAM program is truly a miracle to behold. When everyone, inculding the World Health Organization, was saying that AIDS could not be treated in Africa, and that only prevention measures could be implemented, the CSE believed otherwise. With over one million people suffering from AIDS in Mozambique alone, the CSE knew they had to do something to help. Having developed strong relationships with people here since before and sfter the civil war they helped to mediate, the CSE saw it as their responsibility to help their friends. And so they did. The CSE has establlished various DREAM centers not only in Mozambique but throughout Africa. Indeed, personalism practiced at its best!

The DREAM center in Maputo provides a wide range of services including counseling, on site lab analysis of bloodwork as well as diagnosis for the AIDS disease for each patient, a pharmacy, and a food distribution program. As I write this at the DREAM Center, mothers and children, and the elderly stream though the center seeking help. All those who serve the patients radiate a spirit of love and compassion.

This afternoon I will speak at the Cities for Life event that is being sponsored by the CSE. This one of 1,200 events taking place around the world today to call for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty. Tomorrow, I will travel outside of Maputo to visit a CSE center that provides a special nutrition prgram to some 1,000 chronically malnourished children. I will also speak with young people about nonviolence.

Be assured of my love and prayers for family and friends, near and far.


Reflections from Maputo #2
Dec. 1

Today is World AIDS Day. Being here in Africa and at the DREAM Center which treats people with AIDS, this day takes on a whole new meaning for me. My heart and prayers go out to all who are suffering from this terrible disease, for all those caring for people who have AIDS, and for all who are working to provide the necessary resources to combat this deadly disease. I pray that there will be a greater awareness among people of faith and conscience in our world to support efforts like the DREAM program of the Community Sant'Egidio (CSE) to help treat our sisters and brothers suffering from AIDS. (See: www.santegidio.org.)

Yesterday I spoke at the Cities for Life conference in Maputo with over 200 people, including many young people, attending. This was just one of 1,200 events coordinated by the CSE taking place around the world yesterday to call for the abolition of the death penalty. There was an effort made to have a live internet link to the events in Rome but that did not happen due to techncological and other problems. Also speaking at the conference was Dr. Machili, a former Justice Minister from the Mozambique government and Mr. Manso who is director of Education for the Maputo. Francisco Cocote from the CSE did an outstanding job moderating the conference. A moving excerpt of a letter by executed death row prisoner Dominique Green was also read at the conference.

In my talk I shared the story of my brother Paul's murder and how my faith in God and Jesus carried me through this unspeakable tragedy. I also spoke about Dennis Soutar being a mentally ill homeless man and how he fell through the cracks of our society and ended up killing Paul. I asked people to pray for Dennis who is in a prison hospital in Connecticut for the rest of his life. I also shared about how comapssion, love, mercy and forgiveness is the way to break the cycle of violence, and why the death penalty should be abolished. I spoke of the great work of the Journey of Hope (JOH), Murder Victims Families for Human Rights and Murder Victims for Reconciliation to help bring about an end to state-sanctioned murder. I mentioned that five people from the JOH were participating in Cities for Life events in other countries: Bill Pelke, co-founder of the JOH and death row exoneree Curtis McCarty were in Italy, murder victim family memner Bud Welch was in Belgium, and death row survivors Shujaa Graham and Juan Melindez were in Germany and Spain. I included in my talk several local phrases which were greatly appreciated by those attending the conference. The best one is "Kanimambo", which means Thank You. I was very humbled by the rousing ovation that i was given. After the conference I aksed if we have a big group photo with all gathered. Hopefully, i will be able to later share with you this photo and many others that were taken of this most memorable event.

In closing I would like to share a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that I used in my talk. I think this quote is especially appropriate as Mr. Obama is to announce tonight plans to escalate the criminal and sinful war in Afghanistan. Dr. King said:
"Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world."

With love and gratitude,
Art

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Members of the Journey of Hope travelling the world for the event "Cities for Life"

Every year on November 30th cities throughout the world take part in the event "Cities for Life". By illuminating one momument in an unusual way, these cities declare their damnation to the death penalty. This year more than 1150 cities worldwide will take part in the event. "Cites for Life" was started and is still being organized by the Italy based Community of Sant'Egidio.

But on November 30th there will not only be the momuments illuminated but Sant'Egidio is also organizing lots of speaking events. To some of these events the community also invited members of the Journey of Hope.

At the moment Curtis McCarty is in Rome, Italy. Bill Pelke is having several speaking events in Italy as well - see photos taken at a school event in Corato below. More than 300 students listened to Bill's story there.

Shujaa Graham and Phyllis are in Germany and have been speaking in several schools here already. A public event will be held in the Audimax of the University of Würzburg at 8pm on Monday night.

Bud Welch is in Belgium.

Art Laffin was invited by Sant'Egidio to speak in Mozambique, a country at the south east of the African continent.

There is a very special connection between the community of Sant'Egidio and Mozambique: During the 1980's and early 1990's, the community of Sant'Egidio helped mediate the conflict in Mozambique. On October 4, 1992, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the Mozambique peace accords was signed in Rome at Sant'Egidio, after 26 months of negotiations. Mozambique does not have a death penalty any more but there is still lots of violence. It is a very poor country with about half of its population living in poverty. And the rate of people infected by AIDS/HIV is very high. Sant'Egidio still has people down there who try to help with this special problem.

Let me end this post with a few words by Art Laffin:

"At this time of Thanksgiving, and as we approach the holy season of Advent, let us give thanks to God for the miracle of life, for the gift of one another, and for the countless blessings we have been given. And let us pray for each other, that we can deepen our commitment to stand for life wherever it is threatened. Let us seek to make the Word flesh in all we do as we strive to be Jesus´peace and justice makers in our violent yet still beautiful world."

Photos of High School event in Corato, Italy by Francesca Di Taranto:





November 30th: "Cities for Life"

Cities For Life: throughout the world 1000 CITIES FOR LIFE, ligth a monument as a symbol against death penalty. They thus declare their participation to the initiative "NO JUSTICE WITHOUT LIFE"
Photo and article by the Community of Sant'Egidio

The approval in the last two years of two Resolutions for a universal moratorium on capital punishment at the General Assembly of the United Nations confirm a change in the feelings of the world that may lead to a new and higher threshold in the respect for human rights.

Even the Human Rights Commission of the African Union adopted, at the beginning of last December, a resolution that calls on States in Africa to observe a moratorium on the death penalty, sending a clear signal that the international community would vigorously support the UN vote for the moratorium.

Capital punishment is a relic of the past as it has been for slavery and torture, that were eventually rejected by the conscience of the world. However, the road towards the abolition of capital punishment remains long and difficult and it requires decisive and long term actions in view of the implementation of the resolution and of the ultimate, and universal abolition of death penalty.

Thus, the World Day of Cities for Life/Cities Against the Death Penalty,-which is celebrated every 30th of November, commemorating the anniversary of the first abolition of the death penalty by one European state, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, in the year 1786 - is an important initiative. It has gathered over the years many local governments and civil societies, to offer and promote universally this decisive battle for the whole of humanity. The latest edition, that of 2008, registered the participation of nearly a thousand cities, including 55 capitals, making it the largest international mobilization undertaken so far to halt all executions in the world.

The eighth edition of the event is underway and it will be celebrated on November 30th , 2009. Many cities are already providing cultural activities and public awareness events supported and organized in synergy with the Community of Sant'Egidio and its related associations in Italy and other countries.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

SUSANNE JUST HAD A BIRTHDAY!

Photo was taken in the magic time when the ACTUAL birthday happens. IF celebrated too soon it's bad luck in Germany.

My BEAUTIFUL and BRILLIANT Co-Blogger just celebrated her birthday with oodles of friends and a few family members (at least her precious son) who came from all over the place.

********************

So Many Gifts

There are so many gifts
Still unopened from your birthday,
there are so many hand-crafted presents
that have been sent to you by God.

The Beloved does not mind repeating,
"Everything I have is also yours."

Please forgive Hafiz and the Friend
if we break into a sweet laughter
when your heart complains of being thirsty
when ages ago
every cell in your soul
capsized forever
into this infinite golden sea...

There are so many gifts, my dear,
still unopened from your birthday.

O, there are so many hand-crafted presents
that have been sent to your life
from God.

Hafiz
from, The Gift (Page 67)
Translations by Daniel Ladinsky
Published by Penguin Books Ltd.

********************************************************

SUSANNE, what would we do without you? THE JOURNEY OF HOPE LOVES YOU FOREVER! Have a beautiful new birthday year! We LOVE you!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

HUGS and CONGRATS to Our MARIETTA! Three Forks Woman to Receive Peace Award

I heard her for first time in my hometown and was in tearful awe. I became part of her "family" when on The Journey of Hope in Texas. In each occasion she speaks without flinching yet from the most tender place of her heart and faith.

Three Forks (Montana) Woman to Receive Peace Award

here



ERIK PETERSEN/CHRONICLE Marietta Jaeger Lane poses for a photo by her Three Forks area home Monday evening. Lane has been named the recipient of the 2009 Jeannette Rankin Peace Award for her work against the death penalty
Three Forks woman to receive peace award

Excerpt: “The bottom line is: Do we really honor the victims by taking on the same mindset of resolving our problems that the murderer did?” she said Monday... “Forgiveness is life-giving,” she said. “Initially, I would have been happy to kill the kidnapper myself; I just didn’t know who he was.”

By DANIEL PERSON Chronicle Staff Writer

A Three Forks woman who has embarked on an unlikely crusade against the death penalty will be honored with an award previously bestowed on luminaries like Sens. Mike Mansfield and George McGovern.

Marietta Jaeger Lane has been named the recipient of the 2009 Jeannette Rankin Peace Award, given by the Institute for Peace Studies at Rocky Mountain College to one person for “having lived a life dedicated to peacemaking at any level.”

In 1973, Lane’s 7-year-old daughter was kidnapped from her tent while she was camping near Three Forks, molested and killed. While Lane says she initially would have killed the murderer, David Meirhoffer, if she could have, for the last 36 years she has been a vocal opponent of the death penalty, speaking internationally on the subject.

“The bottom line is: Do we really honor the victims by taking on the same mindset of resolving our problems that the murderer did?” she said Monday.

“Forgiveness is life-giving,” she said. “Initially, I would have been happy to kill the kidnapper myself; I just didn’t know who he was.”

Meirhoffer admitted to killing Susie Jaeger and three others in Gallatin County, but hanged himself in jail before he stood trial.

Cindy Kunz, administrator at the Institute for Peace Studies, said board members who select the award recipient were impressed by both Lane’s work on the death penalty n which has included in presentations to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland n and her work with the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, where she worked to end racism and prejudice.

“She had every right to have a vendetta, but she stepped past that,” Kunz said. “It’s a unique award, and Marietta fit our criteria to a T.”

The award will be presented in Billings Nov. 20. Along with Mansfield and McGovern, previous recipients have included Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, an Anaconda-born Catholic who protested nuclear weapons and advocated for the poor, and Greg Mortenson, the Bozeman man who builds schools in Central Asia.

Lane said she attended a presentation given by Mortenson in Bozeman last week, and was humbled by it.

“There is no way I belong in the same category as this man,” she said. “He is a real hero, a real servant.”

Last winter, Lane lobbied for a bill that would have abolished the death penalty in Montana. While the measure passed the Senate, it died in a House committee on a nearly party-line vote.

She is also speaking out against the execution of John Allen Muhammad, better known as the “D.C. sniper,” which is scheduled for today.

“I just think we need to aspire to higher moral principles,” she said.

Daniel Person can be reached at dperson@dailychronicle.com or 582-2665.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ohio public defender launches new non-DNA innocence initiative By Associated Press

Associated Press File
cleveland.com

GO here

I found this article thanx to Abe Bonowitz! Like he said, "this is SOOO needed!"

November 19, 2009, 2:17PM blog.cleveland.com/metro

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio's top public defender is taking on a rare challenge: accepting cases of convicted criminals who say they're innocent but don't have the DNA to prove it.

The Ohio Public Defender's Wrongful Conviction Project is one of a handful of innocence efforts nationally devoted full-time to non-DNA cases.

Similar projects in New York and Michigan handle only cases with no biological evidence, such as blood or other bodily fluids. The numbers are small for good reason: Proving the innocence of someone without clear-cut biological evidence can be an investigative nightmare requiring months or years of digging without the solid proof a negative DNA test offers.

"DNA cases can be difficult, they can be complex, but in the end, if it's the right case, you come in with the silver bullet," said Keith Findley, director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project and president of a coalition of innocence networks around the country that take on both kinds of cases.

"In most of these non-DNA cases there is no silver bullet, so it take a whole lot of hard work."

Ohio launched its Wrongful Conviction Project last month, convinced that the growing number of DNA exonerations means there are more innocent people behind bars.

"If you're going to have a justice system, then you strive to always get justice," said Ohio State Public Defender Tim Young. "If there are innocent people in prison — and there are — then we haven't gotten there yet."

The project will review claims of inmates who claim they're innocent who were convicted on evidence such as bite marks, patterns in a fire that allegedly point to arson, similarities in hair samples and fingerprints, and eyewitness IDs.

Prospective offenders must first fill out a 21-page questionnaire looking for detailed information about their case and their claim.

If the project decides to look further, volunteer law students from Ohio State University and Capital University will gather records. A Wrongful Conviction Project panel has the final say.

Achieving justice is crucial, but there must be a threshold for which cases are accepted, said Warren County Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel.

"I don't want to see the taxpayer foot the bill for a lot of inmates who claim that they're innocent and aren't," Hutzel said.

In New York, Pace University's Post-Conviction Project has focused mainly on non-DNA cases for the past two years using lessons learned from DNA exonerations.

The Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan law school, which started in January, already has handled three cases that saw four convicted defendants walk free this year.

In one situation, a man and his uncle were granted a new trial this past July in a March 2000 shooting in Detroit that left the victim a quadriplegic.

DeShawn Reed and his uncle, Marvin, claimed they had nothing to with the attack. But they were convicted by the victim's testimony, despite the fact two other witnesses saw a different person fire the gun.

A congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council in February questioned the reliability of a lot of non-DNA evidence.

The report found no evidence that microscopic hair analysis can reliably associate a hair with a specific individual, for example. And fingerprints, though they can provide a match, aren't foolproof.

"We've learned a lot from DNA cases about what goes wrong when innocent people are convicted, and the things that go wrong are the same even though the person has not left behind blood or semen or saliva," said Bridget McCormick, Michigan Innocence Clinic co-director.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Some MORE Good News!

NOTE: Keep those calls to TEXAS coming in! (See the posts just below)
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The following are courtesy of Rick Halperin's News and Updates. Thanx, Rick!

NOVEMBER 19, 2009:

AUSTRALIA:

Gov't ensuring death penalty gone forever

The federal government wants to ensure the death penalty can't be brought back anywhere in Australia.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland told parliament on Thursday the death penalty has been formally abolished in all Australian jurisdictions and there were no proposals for its reinstatement.

However, legislation he was introducing would ensure it could not be reintroduced.

The draft laws emphasised Australia's commitment to its obligations under the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and ensured that Australia continued to comply with those obligations, Mr McClelland said.

"Such a comprehensive rejection of capital punishment will also demonstrate Australia's commitment to the worldwide abolitionist movement, and complement Australia's international lobbying efforts against the death penalty."

Mr McClelland's amendments also change the legal basis for the outlawing of torture.

It replaces the existing offence of torture in a 1988 act with a new offence in the Commonwealth Criminal Code.

Torture, as defined by a United Nations convention to which Australia was a signatory, was severe pain or suffering intentionally inflicted on a person by a public official for a specified purpose such as obtaining information or a confession, Mr McClelland said.

"The new offence is intended to fulfil more clearly Australia's obligations under the Convention Against Torture," he said.

It would not affect state and territory laws against torture.

Debate on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Torture Prohibition and Death Penalty Abolition) Bill 2009 was adjourned.

(source: AAP)

========================
GLOBAL:

Planet Unites in Opposing Death Penalty

On Nov. 30, more than 1,000 cities around the globe will floodlight a monument symbolizing opposition to the death penalty, joining with the Community of Sant'Egidio in their "No Justice Without Life" initiative.

The community recognizes a change in world opinion on the death penalty, highlighted by two U.N. resolutions calling for a universal moratorium on the practice.

A statement from the group called capital punishment a "residue from the past," and said that like slavery and torture, it should eventually be rejected.

Yet, "the path to the abolition of capital punishment continues to be long and difficult and it needs decisive and long-term action in view of the implementation of the resolution and of the definitive abolition of capital punishment," the communiqué affirmed.

The World Day of Cities for Life is observed every Nov. 30 in memory of the first abolition of the death penalty by a state (the Grand Duchy of Tuscany), which took place in 1786.

The 2008 celebration saw the participation of 1,000 cities, more than 50 of which were capitals. It thus represented the most widespread international mobilization ever in the movement to halt all capital executions in the world.

Cities are invited to make a visible gesture to its citizens and to the world. The gesture, preferably the illumination of an important monument of the city, is accompanied with adherence to the universal moratorium and a concrete commitment to build awareness about the issue in civil society. The city of Rome, for example, illuminates the Colosseum, Brussels the Atomium, Barcelona the Cathedral Square.

(source: Zenit.org)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Numbers for Texas for ALL callers (per post below)

Telephone

* Information and Referral Hotline [for Texas callers] :
(800) 843-5789
* Citizen's Opinion Hotline [for Texas callers] :
(800) 252-9600
* Information and Referral and Opinion Hotline [for Austin, Texas and out-of-state callers] :
(512) 463-1782
* Office of the Governor Main Switchboard [office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST] :
(512) 463-2000
* 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

URGENT: CALLS needed - TEXAS NOW!

Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles today voted to recommend that the death sentence of Robert Thompson be commuted to life.

November 18, 2009

Dear Texas Moratorium Network Supporter,

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles today voted to recommend that the death sentence of Robert Thompson be commuted to life. Thompson's execution is scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday, November 19. Governor Perry will be deciding tonight or tomorrow morning whether to accept the recommendation and grant clemency to Thompson. Perry could accept or reject the recommendation from the BPP.

Call the Governor and leave a voice message at 512 463 1782 or email him through his website at here - Urge him to accept the recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant Robert Thompson clemency and commute his sentence to life.

Thompson was sentenced to death under the Law of Parties even though he did not kill the victim. Thompson's accomplice fired the bullet that killed the victim. The accomplice received life in prison.

During the 2009 session of the Texas Legislature, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that would have banned executions of people convicted solely under the Law of Parties for people who do not actually kill anyone. The bill died in the Senate, but its passage in the House showed that many legislators want Texas to stop executing people convicted under the Law of Parties.

If Thompson's execution is commuted, then other people sentenced to death under the Law of Parties could also be commuted in the future, including Jeff Wood.

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, in a highly unusual vote, recommended a convicted murderer set to die Thursday for his part in the fatal shooting of Houston convenience store clerk have his sentence commuted to life in prison.

The board's action Wednesday, on a 5-2 vote, leaves the decision on whether Robert Lee Thompson lives or dies with Gov. Rick Perry.

Thompson, 34, was condemned under the Texas law of parties for being an accomplice when Mansoor Bhai Rahim Mohammed, 29, was gunned down 13 years ago.

Thompson's partner, Sammy Butler, received a life prison term. Thompson got death.

"This is hugely significant," Patrick McCann, Thompson's lawyer, said. "I'm thrilled... Whatever gets my guy to a life sentence I'm thrilled with."

Perry's office had no immediate response. The governor is not required to follow the recommendation of the board, whose members he appoints.

Thompson was set to die after 6 p.m. Thursday.

"I spoke with his office of general counsel and his representative there, and they couldn't tell me when he would make his decision," McCann said.

In his clemency request, McCann compared Thompson's case to that of Kenneth Foster, another inmate condemned under the law of parties.

Two years ago, Foster won a commutation recommendation from the parole board. Perry agreed and Foster now is serving a life sentence. Prison officials said it's the last time a Texas governor commuted a death row inmate's sentence to life in prison.

Perry's explanation for commuting Foster was that Foster and his co-defendant were tried together on capital murder charges for a slaying in San Antonio. In Thompson's case, he and Butler were tried separately in Houston.

At least a half dozen other Texas inmates have been executed under the law of parties.

Under the law, offenders conspiring to commit one felony like robbery can all be held responsible for another ensuing crime, like murder.

The U.S. Supreme Court since 1982 has barred the death penalty for co-conspirators who don't themselves kill. The justices, however, in 1987 made an exception, ruling the Eighth Amendment didn't prohibit execution of someone who plays a major role in a felony that results in murder and whose mental state is one of reckless indifference.

McCann also has an appeal before the Supreme Court raising questions about the competence of Thompson's trial lawyers, arguing jurors who decided Thompson should be executed never learned of his abusive childhood, an upbringing by a mentally ill and drug- and alcohol-addicted mother and a household where he was "raised in and among felons."

To stay current on developments in the fight against the Texas death penalty, please join Texas Moratorium Network's page on Facebook here

Sincerely,

Your friends at Texas Moratorium Network

Circles of Healing Event in NC (Consider this event for your own group/area)

Please consider attending the Capital Restorative Justice Project's 6th annual Circles of Healing event. The details are outlined below.

Restorative Justice: What is it and why do we need it now?

Restorative Justice offers a hopeful vision of justice for victims and their families. It seeks accountability from and compassion for the offender. It addresses the shared responsibility of the community. It is a different way.

The event will take place on Saturday, December 5, 2009 at 2:00 pm at Blacknall Presbyterian Church, 1902 Perry Street, Durham, NC 27705.

This event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

If you have any questions or would like more information, contact Kacey Reynolds at kacey@capitalrestorativejustice.org

Go to www.capitalrestorativejustice.org to register (or CLICK here

Please also consider joining from 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm for "A Service of Remembrance and Healing: 25 Years of Executions in North Carolina"

People of Faith Against the Death Penalty
www.pfadp.org
110 W. Main St., Suite 2-G, Carrboro NC 27510
(919) 933-7567

UPDATES on recent scheduled executions (to be continued all this week)

Texas Moratorium Network
Three Executions in Three Days in Texas, Starting Today
Texas is set to execute three people in three days starting today, November 17. The first is Gerald Cornelius Eldridge, who is mentally ill and has an IQ of 72.

Eldridge just received a reprieve by a federal judge yesterday, November 17th at 4:47pm

Gilles Denizot USA: A human being has been executed last night on the electric chair in Virginia, while another has been granted a stay of execution in Texas. Today Nov. 18, another man faces execution in Texas! Raise your voice! here

Facebook comment: we must all call the governor and raise our voices and we need all the voices we can get. There must be more and more protests each and every time. They cannot execute people who are mentally retarded and those who never shot anyone under the law of parties.

A reminder about writing comments

This is just a reminder on our policy regarding allowing comments.

Since we do receive lots of inadequate comments we have a certain procedure to check them before posting them.

First we check if the identity of the person who wrote the comment is clear. If it is not absolutely clear who wrote this comment, we reject it without even reading it.
This has two reasons:
a) We sincerely believe that anyone who thinks he or she has to say anything in public, must also have the courage to stand up for what he/she says and
b) In case there should be anything standing in a comment which might lead to legal consequences, we do believe that the person who wrote the comment should be held responsible.

After confirming that there is an identity with the comment, we check the comment itself for the language used. Comments with inappropriate language, with insults etc. are being rejected.

Only after this is check the content of a comment: All advertisement is being rejected. We do publish comments for and comments against the death penalty but we do insist on a certain form being observed!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Adjusting to life after death row

YBy Dave Lee
BBC World Service


John Thompson spent 14 years on death row for crimes he did not commit.

Convicted of killing New Orleans hotel executive Ray Liuzza, and for a carjacking weeks later, he was preparing to be sent to his death at the notorious Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana - the largest maximum security prison in the United States.

After six execution dates, John had exhausted all his appeals. His seventh date - 22 May 1999 - was to be his last.

In one final twist, a new investigator uncovered some previously lost evidence. After a retrial, John was freed in 2003.

It was the start of another struggle - surviving in the outside world. It was a struggle which has led John to found a new charity helping former death row inmates: Resurrection After Exoneration.

He told BBC World Service's Outlook programme his story.

"I was glad to be coming home. I was overwhelmed with the thought of me having my freedom, but at the same time I was scared to death because I didn't know what I was coming in to. I didn't know where I was going.

"I only had a mother. My two sons had grown. I was coming into a world where I had no future - I didn't know what to expect."

Yet, unusually for a death row inmate, John was surrounded by people willing to help him get his life back on track.

"I had a remarkable supporting cast of people when I came home. When I first came home I started working for the death penalty law firm that represent guys on death row. So I had a job immediately waiting for me."

He was also offered a house, a book deal and movie deal. Before the week was out, he'd even met his future wife.

"I was blessed, but not my other exonerated brothers. They wasn't as blessed as I was when I came home."

Psychological rehab

It was this experience which drove him to set up his charity helping wrongly convicted death row inmates to fit back into the outside world.

The group provides housing, education and work opportunities to people who are otherwise shunned by society.

"When you come home you need some total psychological rehab.

"You need somebody to sit down with you and talk to you and let you know that what you just experienced was wrong.

"You need the help, you need a job. People do not want to give these guys a second chance and that's what my programme is about."

John's time on death row was a constant battle against the law and his own state of mind.

"You need to find out what they're trying to kill you for, what the rules and regulations is.

"They actually bring a warrant to your cell and tell you to sign it, for them to have permission to kill you. I never did."

In the 14 years of his stay, he saw 12 of his fellow inmates - friends - be executed.

"On death row we're supposed to be the worst of the worst, yet within 24 hours of [an] execution, we fast that whole day. Everybody on death row, they will pray for the victim's family, we will pray for our family. Asking that God ease everyone of their burdens and pain."

John knew his time was fast approaching.

"I was hoping that somewhere down the line someone would see that I was innocent. But the reality was I was an African-American male - really, really poor. And I was accused of killing a rich, white guy. I didn't feel like I would ever have an opportunity to prove my innocence again."

He nearly didn't. One day, as John sat in his cell, his lawyers gave him his seventh execution date. He would be killed the day after his youngest son's high school graduation.

At his son's school, a teacher discussed the execution in one of his classes, unaware of who was listening.

"My son was in the classroom - he had a nervous breakdown."

Forensic evidence

Just as John and his family were coming to terms with his imminent execution, a new investigator was hired.

It proved to be an appointment that saved his life. On the same day John was being told of his final execution date, the investigator uncovered some forensic tests that proved his innocence.

The evidence, which had previously been lost, showed that blood found on the carjacking victim's trousers wasn't from either the victim or John.

"It was just that simple - it was a matter of knowing the right question to ask at the right time, to the right person."

Friday, November 13, 2009

USA: Death penalty and victim-family closure (Author of "The Crying Tree")

See Op Ed below. Here are praises for author's book: The Crying Tree: “FOR ANYONE WHO HAS EVER WONDERED HOW FORGIVENESS IS POSSIBLE, EVEN WHEN THE PAIN IS OVERWHELMING, WONDER NO MORE. THE CRYING TREE TAKES YOU ON A JOURNEY YOU WON'T SOON FORGET.” Sister Helen Prejean Author of Dead Man Walking "THIS COMPLEX, LAYERED STORY OF A FAMILY'S JOURNEY TOWARD JUSTICE AND FORGIVENESS COMES TOGETHER THROUGH SPELLBINDING STORYTELLING."Publishers Weekly
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Of all the arguments in support of capital punishment, perhaps the most emotionally compelling is that it provides "closure" for the loved ones of murder victims. Prosecuting attorneys, politicians and journalists commonly refer to how executions allow family members to "move on" from their pain, providing a sense of relief at knowing that "justice" was finally served.

"Beltway sniper" John Allen Muhammad was executed Tuesday night for his role in the October 2002 sniper shootings in which 16 Washington-area residents were shot, and 10 killed. Among those who attended his execution were more than 20 family members of the victims.

Did watching the killer die help any of those relatives move on with their lives?

Stanford University psychiatrist David Spiegel believes that the theory that executions provide closure is "naive, unfounded, pop psychology." Contrary to expectations, Spiegel says, witnessing executions not only fails to provide closure but also often causes symptoms of acute stress. "Witnessing trauma," he says, "is not far removed from experiencing it."

Spiegel has concluded that "true closure is achieved only through extensive grief work." This process requires families to acknowledge and bear their loss as well as to put it into perspective. It necessitates a network of support systems: counselors who will sit with, listen to and work with survivors; work environments flexible enough to accommodate counseling sessions and the down time that is a natural result of grief and stress; and victim assistance programs that make sure those things
happen.

In researching a novel on capital punishment, forgiveness and closure, I found that the promise of closure made by district attorneys and others often perpetuated the already long-lived pain that is endemic to violent loss. Typically, a death sentence results in years of legal wrangling as the defendant attempts to overturn the jury's verdict or the sentence. The process is costly and emotionally draining and usually waylays any true healing that might have taken place had there not been a constant reminder that justice had yet to be served.

This is why many families of murder victims prefer that offenders receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Rather than focus on what could be a decades-long march to a death chamber, once a verdict is in, survivors can go about trying to put their lives back together.

Do these families find closure?

It's impossible to know with certainty for all, but I doubt that anyone who has lost a loved one to a violent crime can ever fully close the door on that episode of his or her life. It is certain, however, that we can give victims more than a handful of false promises.

In the past decade, 24 U.S. prisons have begun victim-offender dialogue programs. These programs give victims' survivors opportunities to meet with, talk to and ask questions of the offenders, often questions only the offender can answer. According to John Wilson, director of Just Alternatives, a group that trains prison personnel in the dialogue program, this victim-led initiative has brought a sense of power and
renewal to the lives of survivors. "Survivors can go through years of therapy, but until they have the opportunity to talk with their offenders, their healing often feels unfinished." he said.

If this is true, one wonders what else could have been done for Marion Lewis and all the others harmed by John Muhammad.

There's no telling what the family members feel, now that Muhammad is dead. What we do know for sure is that now that all the cameras have been turned off, those survivors will return home and have to find a way to move on with their lives all on their own.

(source: Dallas Morning News; Naseem Rakha is the author of "The Crying Tree" and is researching victim-offender programs in Oregon----Op-ed)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Group brings anti-death penalty message to Western's campus

Liz Switzer
Nov 06, 2009 (The Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX
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Death penalty opponents brought their message to Western Kentucky University on Thursday night, prompting outrage and tears from the audience with personal accounts of wrongful imprisonment on death row and urging action on two death penalty bills pending before the Kentucky legislature.

The program, sponsored by WKU's Department of History, examined personal experiences surrounding executions and homicide as well as their implication by Journey of Hope, a national advocacy group led by murder victim family members joined by death row family members, family members of the executed, the exonerated and others with stories to tell.

The event was part of a state tour of colleges to raise public awareness about inequities surrounding capital punishment and featured Journey of Hope founder Bill Pelke, who supported the death penalty until his grandmother's murder; Shujaa Graham, who was released from death row after he was exonerated for the 1973 murder of a prison guard in Stockton, Calif.; and Terri Steinberg, mother of Justin Wolfe, Virginia's youngest death row inmate.

The speakers were joined by Kentucky ACLU coordinator Kate Miller, who urged the audience of some 100 students at the Mass Media Technology Hall Auditorium to support legislation to end executions of the severely mentally ill as well as put an end to the death penalty in Kentucky.

"We can protect society without becoming the murderers we lock up behind bars," said Steinberg, who related the story of her son, who received a death sentence in 2001 on charges of murder for hire. Despite the confession by another man also in prison on charges related to the crime, Wolfe is still in prison because no court has agreed to hear new evidence of the confession, Steinberg said.

"The average stay on Virginia's death row is seven to nine years," Steinberg told the audience. "Justin is at eight and a half, so there is the possibility that he will be executed in the next year."

Pelke, a retired steelworker, talked of his work to save his grandmother's assailant from execution.

"The death penalty is purely a matter of revenge and revenge is never the answer," he said. "It is cruel and unnecessary. Society has a right to be safe from violent individuals but we don't have the right to kill them."

There are many reasons the death penalty, a complex and political issue, should be abolished, according to group. Among them is the fact that the U.S. is keeping company with notorious human rights abusers as the vast majority of countries in Western Europe, North America and South America -- more than 128 nations worldwide -- have abandoned capital punishment in law or in practice, and year after year, only three countries execute more prisoners than the United States -- China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, there have been 1,136 executions carried out in the U.S. with the South accounting for 80 percent of those executions, according to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Since 1976, 124 men and women have been released from death row nationally -- some only minutes away from execution, according to Journey of Hope, and in the past two years, evidence has come to light that indicates that four men may have been wrongfully executed in recent years for crimes they did not commit.

NOVEMBER ELEVENTH: Ft. Hood, Armistice Day & The Burial of Abraham

GO to this profound piece and hold these suggestions/reminders to heart on November 11th: here

The Shalom Center's Notes : Read the profound reminders here which should be a bridge for us all PAUSE on NOVEMBER 11th to remember all the murdered and bombed and their grieving families and the hell of the mentally ill too who've killed and their families and all who've been forced to do war crime acts for the War Criminal Big Shots!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Victim's son: "I think it would be wrong for you to get the death penalty"

Eric Rogers was 17 when he saw his parents stabbed and bludgeoned to death by his uncle at their El Cerrito home just before dawn in January 2006.

The convicted murderer, a trucker named Edward Wycoff from the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights, is as unsympathetic as they come. He insists he deserves to be rewarded for ridding the world of two evil people, that he knew how to raise his sister's three children better than she and her husband did, and that, besides, they had the gall not to invite him over for Christmas.

Arguing to a jury that he should not be sentenced to die, he makes bad jokes that no one laughs at.

So it was an unlikely witness who argued for Wycoff's life Monday in the penalty phase of his murder trial in Martinez - Rogers.

Rogers, now 21, who along with his sister cradled their mortally wounded father in their home on Rifle Range Road on Jan. 31, 2006, said his uncle should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Later, he told reporters what a judge ruled he could not tell the jury - that his parents, Paul Rogers and Julie Wycoff Rogers, would have wanted Wycoff to be spared lethal injection.

'It would be wrong'

"I think it would be wrong for you to get the death penalty," Rogers told Wycoff, who has been acting as his own attorney in Contra Costa County Superior Court. "You, specifically, because you are mentally childish and immature for your age."

Rogers told Wycoff, 40, that he had the makeup of a 9-year-old boy.

Outside court, Rogers said his parents were opposed to capital punishment, and so is he.

"Killing and hatred is something I associate with my uncle, not my parents," he said.

Rogers said he recognized that it wasn't his call. "I trust the justice system," he said. "I understand that it's not up to us - it's the people."

Judge's ruling

The jury considering Wycoff's fate is the same panel that convicted him Tuesday of two counts of murder with special circumstances for using a knife and a wheelbarrow handle to kill Julie Rogers, a 47-year-old attorney and former member of El Cerrito's Planning Commission, and Paul Rogers, 48, a business and technology attorney.

Superior Court Judge John Kennedy barred Eric Rogers from stating whether he opposed the death penalty and what his parents' views on the subject were. The judge said the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that such views are "irrelevant and inadmissible in a capital trial."

Testifying on his own behalf later Monday, Wycoff said his nephew was a "a real man" for standing up for his beliefs. Then he displayed the callousness that helped persuade the jury to take all of 45 minutes to convict him.

"To go against popular opinion like that shows he turned out to be quite a good person," Wycoff said. "I did a good job getting rid of his parents. It was the right thing to do. It helped a lot."

Humor falls flat

No matter what his ultimate punishment is, Wycoff told jurors, "I will have still won that free trip to Prisoneyland." When the courtroom remained silent, he said, "I can see this audience is comically challenged."

Last week, in his closing argument in the guilt phase of the trial, Wycoff used a pen to stab at a bowl of cereal and told the grim-faced jurors, "I'm a cereal killer."

Wycoff has never argued with prosecutors' assertion that he killed his older sister and her husband because he thought they were too liberal, were "too easy" on their children, and had snubbed him on Christmas. He had hoped to adopt Eric Rogers and his two younger siblings, Alex and Laurel, after the killings.

Wycoff's defiant lightheartedness Monday was a jarring shift from the earlier testimony of Eric Rogers and his sister, Laurel, now 16.

Laurel said her father was "one of the most intelligent and compassionate people I've ever known." Her mother was "creative and really kind."

She remembered the way her dad's mustache would move up and his eyes would crinkle when he smiled. Her mom would call her a "goofy nickname" while picking her up from school and do "a little dance" when she was excited about something.

Father's final words

Laurel said she tries to block out the last time she saw her father, lying in pool of blood in a bedroom with a knife stuck in his back. His last words to her were similar to what he always told her, she said: "I will always love you, no matter what."

"I never really understood it until now," Laurel said as relatives in the gallery and at least one juror wept. "I miss everything about them. Even things that would annoy me then, I miss."

The girl said she has struggled with drinking and drugs since the killings and now has a "very cynical view of the world."

"I've sort of developed a hate for humanity," the teenager said. "I'm not happy. I don't want to wear happy colors."