Saturday, January 31, 2009

We can't take it back: consider before executing...


Death penalty errors can't be taken back

On Feb. 4 at 1 a.m., the state of Tennessee plans to execute Steve Henley. Henley was convicted and sentenced in 1985 based almost exclusively on the testimony of a codefendant, an admitted drug addict, who had implicated himself in the crime and served only 5 years in prison for his participation.

How can we move to take a man's life based on nothing more than the testimony of a drug addict who made a deal? How can we allow this in kind of thing to happen in our criminal system?

Does it not anger us when the authorities we trust to administer justice allow deals involving questionable testimony from questionable sources rather than evidence to make cases? How can we stomach the kind of deal-making that allows the fastest person to take a deal to walk free after 5 years yet puts another person to death for the same crime?

Plus, Steve Henley's case is an example of inadequate representation, the kind of lack of courtroom help that is being found all-too-common by our own state's committee to review the death penalty. Do we dismiss these outrages because it is not our own family member or friend who is experiencing such an injustice? How is this justice for the victims? If our own state legislative committee has found such problems in our death penalty process, how can we move forward with taking this man's life?

If we make a mistake by executing Steve Henley, we cannot take it back. Let us, as a state, stop ignoring the problem and take a collective, hard look at this process before we take any more lives.

REV. JODI MCCULLAH -- Clarksville

(source: Letter to the Editor, Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle)

Friday, January 30, 2009

BOOKS: Life and Death Matters: Seeking the Truth About Capital Punishment

BOOKS: Life and Death Matters: Seeking the Truth About Capital Punishment
Posted: January 30, 2009 NEW!

Life and Death Matters: Seeking the Truth About Capital Punishment is a new book that documents author Robert Baldwin’s personal journey in confronting racism and the death penalty in the Deep South. Baldwin shares his evolution in a conversational, first-person style with a declared faith perspective. Written for people of all beliefs and backgrounds, he focuses on the myths and misconceptions about prisons and the death penalty discovered through his personal experiences.

Baldwin began his career as a medical doctor and now devotes his time to public service work in prison ministry and to helping children born deaf and hard of hearing.

(R. Baldwin, "Life and Death Matters," New South Books, 2009). For more information:
Go here

Thursday, January 29, 2009

'If you don't forgive, it will destroy you' Rwandan Jean Paul Samputu

'If you don't forgive, it will destroy you' singer and Rwandan Ambassador for Peace said in Canada last fall.

Jean Paul Samputu's former neighbor and childhood friend - in 1994 - murdered Jean Paul's father and mother as well as three of his brothers and a sister during the Rwandan massacre/genocide of minority Tutsis by majority Hutus. The United Nations estimates 800,000 people died. Other groups state varying numbers. And of course the tragedy was much more than numbers killed and includes tensions and trauma which continue today.

In a dramatic turnabout - finally - Samputu approached the killer of his family members and talked to him. The pair now travel together in Africa, talking to people, both Hutu and Tutsi.

We need them - so urgently - to speak throughout our hurting revenge-filled world.

NOTE: I pulled this piece together from several sources - let me know if you have others and any suggestions as to corrections, additions. While this post is way too short to do the story justice - it's a blog and besides - we have a great article already posted today. Be sure to scroll down to the item just below this sometime soon to see what Sr. Helen is up to now.

Be sure to look up today's BBC transcript-audio! This man, like so many in The Journey, is a true hero for our day.

As I was trying to get sleepy, last night, I read a helpful piece that we all need a mission - a purpose in life - or we die.

Early - as I slept fitfully - the BBC radio awakened me with a unique song which tugged at my soul. This was Samputu's voice -- who reminded me that we at The Journey of Hope and many others in many small and large ways, do indeed have a very urgent message and purpose for the world today. And we have mentors and role models to guide is. Jean Paul Samputu is so obviously our "Journey brother", I must make a notice here so others who read this Journey blog will be alerted to look him up on BBC soon when the transcript-audio is available. (probably EST PM)

Who knows, he may also be available through World Vision Canada or some other way as a powerful speaker and musician who's singing tugs at the heart?
Jean Paul Samputu was caught up in the horrific Rwandan Genocide and has suffered much to come to the place where he can now so freely tell and sing his story.

The hatred Jean Paul Samputu had for the neighbour and best friend who killed his parents and four of his siblings was eating him alive. He turned to alcohol and much more.

Samputu, a 46-year-old Tutsi, said the killer, who served a 12-year prison sentence, had been his next door neighbour and a childhood friend. "It took me nine years before I forgave him. During that time I became an alcoholic and a drug abuser," Samputu said when he spoke in Canada last autumn. According to a Canadian paper, The Gazette, Samputu told how after nine years he became sober and realized the anger he was holding on to was no way to honour his dead loved ones. He also said he finally began to consider the well-being of his own wife and three children.

He does not believe in any one church, but he has said that his admiration for Jesus Christ led to much of the transformation that followed. "If I had not been healed I would have passed this hatred to my children and they would carry it on."

Samputu also credits his father legacy and memory with his willingness to forgive.

In Canada last September, Samputu noted a current Canadian tragedy: The fatal shooting by police of 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva in Montreal North - and the riots that followed the next day. These reveal fresh lines of resentment between racial and ethnic communities and the Montreal police, he said. Both sides in the debate need to search for common areas of understanding, or suspicion will grow into something much worse, Jean Paul warned. (We in the US should take sober heed!)

The Rwandan singer and peace activist spoke on Mount Royal Canada for the International Day of Peace. Samputu went as an ambassador for peace with World Vision Canada 2008 when he helped mark the International Day of Peace.

When Samputu spoke with the BBC reporter, he said his father - were he here today - would have said in no uncertain terms never to revenge or kill.

Jean Paul said, "Generations carry the wounds of unforgiveness. Future peace depends on us..."

"There is too much anger and fear. You have to forgive. If you don't forgive, it's going to destroy you.

"We must ask: 'What can we do to prevent this in the future?"

New network launched to mobilize Catholics against death penalty

HARRISBURG, Pa. (CNS) -- The Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Death Penalty, launched Jan. 25 in Harrisburg, is not just another initiative of the bishops but instead represents lay Catholics at the grass-roots level "taking up the challenge" put forth in bishops' documents, statements and actions over the past three decades.

That's how John Carr, executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, described the network at a news conference at the close of a training conference of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in Harrisburg.

The network, which will operate independently from the USCCB, will be designed particularly to reach out to young people and Hispanic Catholics on the issue of capital punishment. It was begun with seed money from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille, whose best-known member is death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean.

Sister Helen, the author of "Dead Man Walking" who speaks frequently at college campuses, said she has seen "how hungry" students are "to participate in substantive exchanges on important issues."

Saying that many students are "looking for soul-sized activities," she said they might be encouraged to visit prisons, write to death-row inmates and reach out to the family members of murder victims through the network.

"It's about summoning people, educating them and moving people to action," Sister Helen said.

Catholic teaching opposes the use of the death penalty in nearly every circumstance, since society has other adequate means to protect its citizens.

Although the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that "the traditional teaching of the church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor," it quotes Pope John Paul II as saying that "the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity 'are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.'"

Among the others speaking at the Harrisburg news conference were Marietta Jaeger Lane, a Catholic whose faith led her to forgive the man who kidnapped, raped and killed her 7-year-old daughter in 1973; Karen Clifton, who chairs the steering committee of the new network; and Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Lane said that when her daughter Susie was killed, she "would have been happy to kill the kidnapper with my bare hands." But she eventually came to realize that "however horribly he might have behaved with my daughter, he was a son of God too," she added. "God calls us to say yes to life and no to death."

Clifton said she became involved in working against the death penalty while living in Texas, where 424 people have been executed since 1976, more than four times the number in any other U.S. state.

She said the network will have a page on the social networking site Facebook, as well as a cutting-edge Web site with educational materials in English and Spanish on the death penalty and church teachings about it. Such tools as infomercials and podcasts also are planned, she said.

"It's new urgency, new partners and new tools," said Carr. But the message remains the same: "Human dignity is a gift from God, not something we earn by our good behavior."

Carr noted that the bishops have issued a series of documents and statements on the death penalty over the past 30 years, the latest being the 2005 statement "A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death."

"We renew our common conviction that it is time for our nation to abandon the illusion that we can protect life by taking life," that statement said. "We encourage reflection and call for common action in the Catholic community and among all men and women of good will to end the use of the death penalty in our land. Ending the death penalty would be one important step away from a culture of death toward building a culture of life."
By Nancy Frazier O'Brien - Catholic News Service

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Death Penalty as an accelerant to murder? Gov. Martin O'Malley

Gov. Martin O'Malley is stepping out to press Maryland to end its use of the ultimate sentence.

O'Malley has moved sharply away from his earlier reticence about translating his personal opposition to the death penalty into state policy.

In his campaign three years ago, O'Malley was upfront about his personal objections to the death penalty, but promised that he could and would sign death warrants when necessary. He has continued to speak about his own belief that Maryland ought not be killing prisoners, but this is the first legislative session in which he is preparing to push hard to change state law.

"It would appear that the death penalty is not a deterrent, but very possibly an accelerant, to murder," O'Malley has said in public testimony about his own conclusions. Now, he's taking that fight to a legislature that does not appear to include many changed minds on the subject. (from the following article)


Maryland & Virginia Go Separate Ways On Death Penalty

In both Annapolis and Richmond this winter, the coldest winds are those swirling around the devastating budget cuts that both Maryland and Virginia must make as a result of plummeting tax receipts.

Previously sacrosanct areas of government spending are now on the chopping block, including K-12 schooling, public safety and even mental health--an area Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and the legislature just started rebuilding after the Virginia Tech massacre.

But despite the politically and personally difficult work of eliminating jobs and services, legislators can't stop themselves from delving into the social issues that they like to use to capture headlines and win attention from voters whose eyes glaze over when budget matters take center stage.

In both states, moves are afoot to make big changes in death penalty law. As the states' stereotypes would have it, Virginia is considering expanding use of capital punishment, while Gov. Martin O'Malley is stepping out to press Maryland to end its use of the ultimate sentence.

The Virginia efforts are an annual affair, a move, mainly by Republicans, to widen use of the death penalty to cover accomplices in murder cases. The state's current "triggerman" law limits executions to those who actually commit the deed, rather than those who may have conspired with or helped the killer.

The legislature passed that expansion of the law last year, but Gov. Tim Kaine vetoed the bill (as he had the year before)and its supporters didn't have enough votes to override Kaine's veto.

(Both Kaine and O'Malley are Catholics whose personal opposition to the death penalty is rooted in their faiths. Interestingly, all four of Virginia's gubernatorial candidates this year have a more pro-death penalty approach. Republican Bob McDonnell and Democrats Brian Moran and Creigh Deeds favor expanding capital punishment by scrapping the triggerman rule; Democrat Terry McAuliffe would "not oppose" such a move, according to his spokesman.)

If the 2002 D.C. sniper case, the impetus for last year's expansion effort, wasn't enough to win an enlarged death penalty the support it needed, then it's hardly likely that a recession will do the trick, even if crime rates do start to spike. But that reality won't stop conservatives in Richmond; a Senate committee last week approved not only the triggerman change, but another bill that would expand the death penalty to cover cases in which someone kills a fire marshal or his assistant.

Across the Potomac, however, the politics of capital punishment has less of a broken record feel to it this year, as O'Malley has moved sharply away from his earlier reticence about translating his personal opposition to the death penalty into state policy.

In his campaign three years ago, O'Malley was upfront about his personal objections to the death penalty, but promised that he could and would sign death warrants when necessary. He has continued to speak about his own belief that Maryland ought not be killing prisoners, but this is the first legislative session in which he is preparing to push hard to change state law.

"It would appear that the death penalty is not a deterrent, but very possibly an accelerant, to murder," O'Malley has said in public testimony about his own conclusions. Now, he's taking that fight to a legislature that does not appear to include many changed minds on the subject.

So why now? Certainly such an effort may help the governor gain some goodwill from liberals who were appalled to learn that the state police, during Gov. Bob Ehrlich's tenure, spied on anti-death penalty activists in Maryland, as well as from those on the left who opposed O'Malley's successful push to legalize slots gambling.

It's also true that during this very rough patch in the economy, O'Malley may be looking for ways to remind voters that he's a principled, religious and thoughtful guy. And even among death penalty supporters, the idea of a governor who stands up for his religious principles has some appeal.

The backing of the governor's commission on capital punishment, which last month called for abolition of the death penalty, gives O'Malley a good opening to make his push, but legislators say there's no sign of much give on the part of capital punishment supporters in Annapolis. The state has executed five convicts since the penalty was reinstated in 1978.

Death penalty politics is usually a sideshow, especially in Virginia, where the Republicans' once-winning formula of gays, guns, God and other hot-button social issues has been wearing thin in recent elections.

But lawmakers are eager to find some distraction from budget cutting this session. Since it's hardly likely that any significant new spending programs can be passed this year--at least not until any federal infrastructure initiative gets going later in the year--there may be a resort to some tired old social issues to score political points.

In the end, however, the only action is likely to be rhetorical--Kaine is not about to sign any expansion of the death penalty. (And newly emboldened Democrats in Richmond would dearly love to paint their Republican foes as ever-more isolated social conservatives bent on pushing their agenda on an increasingly moderate population.)

In Maryland, it's the more moderate among O'Malley's fellow Democrats who seem poised to block the governor's big move.

Every politician loves a good distraction when times are tough, but if history is any guide, economic down times will lead to more crime--not exactly the atmosphere in which a repeal of the death penalty is likely to be carried along by a wave of public support.

By Marc Fisher | January 27, 2009; 12:17 PM ET

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

TEXAS: Swearingen : A case for "actual innocence" as legal claim?

Someone killed Melissa Trotter and dumped her body in the Sam Houston National Forest. But according to six forensic experts, that someone was not Larry Swearingen-an eight-year resident of Texas’s death row.

Good news: Larry Swearingen just got a stay of execution from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The court granted the stay and also granted him permission to file another writ of habeas corpus in federal district court, though it limited him to two legal claims...

If the federal appeal fails, Swearingen will appeal again to the Fifth Circuit. If that fails, Swearingen could wind up back before the state Court of Criminal Appeals again, as he has been for the past couple of weeks, desperately seeking a stay of execution based on his claim that, according to science, he could not have killed Trotter.

Will Swearingen give the system a chance and reason for a legal claim of "actual innocence"? The Judge apparently thinks this is so.

From from Michael Hall's updates and article:

...In a fascinating side note, one of the three Fifth Circuit judges noted the federal elephant in the room—that there is no such thing as a legal claim of “actual innocence” in federal court. And Judge Jacques L. Wiener, Jr., obviously believes Swearingen gives the system a chance to have one: “This might be the very case for this court en banc—or the U.S. Supreme Court if we should demur—to recognize actual innocence as a ground for federal habeas relief. To me, this question is a brooding omnipresence in capital habeas jurisprudence that has been left unanswered for too long.”

..."We are absolutely grateful for the stay,” says James Rytting, Swearingen’s attorney. “The evidence of innocence is compelling—it shows Larry couldn’t have murdered Melissa Trotter. It would have been a stain on our justice system if they had executed the man. And it will be if they ever go through with this in the future... Rytting (added): “If that court doesn’t determine Swearingen meets the standards of actual innocence, no one ever will.”

...In the past few days, the Houston Chronicle wrote an editorial demanding that Perry stay the execution and both the Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesman published long stories on Swearingen’s case, each one skeptical of his guilt. The truth is, the closer you look at the case, the more you realize it’s simply a bad one. But don’t take my word—take the word of the physicians and scientists who have studied the evidence. Swearingen didn’t kill Trotter. And if someone doesn’t step in and do something, the state of Texas—in other words, you and me and every other citizen here—is going to execute an innocent man.

Innocent men in prison often have two things in common. They (often) stubbornly refuse to plead guilty, even if it means a reduced sentence or freedom...
...Six different physicians and scientists—forensic pathologists and entomologists—say there’s almost no way Swearingen could have done it. One of those doctors was instrumental in convicting Swearingen back in 2000 but has now changed her mind after seeing all of the evidence. Dr. Glenn Larkin, a retired forensic pathologist in Charlotte, North Carolina, says, “As a forensic scientist since 1973, I always kept an objective stance when called to testify; however, there comes a point when as a human, and as a Christian, there is a mandate to speak in the interest of justice. This is a moral issue now; no rational and intellectually honest person can look at the evidence and conclude Larry Swearingen is guilty of this horrible crime.”

The Story - by Michael Hall: A Shaky Case begins...
Back in 2000, the prosecutors of Montgomery County used mostly circumstantial evidence, some of it remarkably weak, to convict Swearingen. Trotter was a nineteen-year-old student at Montgomery College in Conroe when she disappeared on December 8, 1998... An extensive search was organized, and her body wasn’t discovered until January 2 in the Sam Houston National Forest by a couple of hunters—in an area that had been already searched three times...

...(In order to get the death penalty, prosecutors had to prove murder in tandem with another felony, such as kidnapping or rape.) The motive? Prosecutors brought forward testimony from construction worker pals of Swearingen’s who said he had been furious at being stood up. As for proof about the kidnapping, there were witnesses who saw the two together on campus earlier that day...To read the rest...Go here Also find a photo with a triumphant Larry and his wife at this link.

Or go to Texas Monthly dot com to find both the entire story and the two updates by Michael Hall

STAY! Swearingen's Attorney: evidence proves innocence

Man in Montgomery County killing gets stay of execution
By RENÉE C. LEE Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle Jan. 27, 2009, 12:22AM

For the second time, accused killer Larry Swearingen won a reprieve the day before he was to be executed by injection.

Swearingen, who was convicted of kidnapping, raping and strangling 19-year Melissa Trotter more than a decade ago, was granted a stay of execution by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit on Monday. He was scheduled to be put to death Tuesday.

Swearingen, who has been on death row since 2000, was scheduled to die two years ago, but 24 hours before his Jan. 24, 2007 execution date, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals granted him a stay.

Now, after many denied appeals, the federal appeals court has given Swearingen another chance to prove to his innocence. The court, in a unanimous decision, said his due process rights had been violated.

The crux of Swearingen’s petitions have focused on the time of Trotter’s death and new insect and pathology evidence that contradicts state evidence. His attorney, James Rytting, says the evidence proves that Swearingen could not have killed Trotter on Dec. 8, 1998, because he was in jail on an unrelated charge.

Swearingen’s latest appeal, filed last week, includes additional new evidence — preserved heart tissue from Trotter’s autopsy — which further supports Swearingen’s innocence, Rytting said.

“We’re glad that someone has stepped in,” Rytting said. “We think this is an extraordinary case of actual innocence. We’re hopeful that the federal courts will give the evidence a fair review.”

The case will now go to a federal district court.
Parents’ reaction

Monday’s ruling was another blow to Trotter’s parents, Charles and Sandra Trotter, who said they are disappointed.

“The whole thing is just hard to comprehend,” said Sandra Trotter. “How the federal court can make this ruling. ... It’s almost like the federal courts are more concerned about the criminals’ rights. What about Melissa’s rights?”

Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Marc Brumberger, who handles post-conviction cases, said he is confident the state’s case will be upheld in federal district court.

Representatives of The Innocence Project, a group that works to exonerate wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing, have been working consultants on Swearingen’s federal court appeal.

“We’re gratified that they stayed the execution,” said co-director Barry Scheck. “These are extremely important scientific issues that focus on whether Larry Swearingen is guilty or innocent. It’s extremely important that all medical expert testimony be explored thoroughly in the court of law.”

Trotter disappeared from Montgomery College on Dec. 8, 1998. Witnesses said they last saw her on campus that day with Swearingen.

Trotter’s body was later discovered on Jan. 2, 1999, in the Sam Houston National Forest in Montgomery County with a piece of pantyhose around her neck.
Autopsy findings

Prosecutors contend that Trotter was killed on the same day she was abducted, and their evidence was bolstered by former Harris County medical examiner Dr. Joye Carter’s autopsy report. She had determined that Trotter’s body had been in the woods for 25 days, placing the date of death on Dec. 8.

Carter later changed her opinion in 2007, concluding that Trotter’s body could not have been left in the woods more than 14 days before her body was discovered.

Her reversal came after Rytting found experts, including current Harris County Medical Examiner Dr. Luis Sanchez, who said Trotter died after Dec. 11 and as late as Dec. 18. Their opinions were based on when they say insect infestation of Trotter’s body occurred. Swearingen was arrested on Dec. 11 and was in jail until his trial.

The experts also said Trotter’s body and internal organs were too well preserved to had been exposed to the elements for 25 days. Her intact organs would have liquefied, they said.

Carter noted in her original autopsy report that she had removed and dissected internal organs. In a signed affidavit, she said if she had been given additional information, her testimony about her autopsy findings would have been consistent with the experts’ findings.

Rytting has since found another expert, Tarrant County’s Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Lloyd White, who says Trotter’s heart tissue — the new evidence in the federal appeal — shows well-defined cells that could only have come from a body dead less than two or three days.

In granting the stay, the federal appeal court on Monday said Swearingen’s due process rights were violated because his trial attorney failed to develop evidence from Trotter’s cardiac tissue.

The court also agreed that his trial attorney did a poor job in cross-examining Carter on the pathology evidence and that the “state sponsored false and misleading forensic testimony regarding when Trotter’s body was left in the forest.”

These two arguments were previously rejected by the state courts.

Brumberger said he believes the federal appeals court ruling was based on a misunderstanding of Carter’s affidavit.

“Dr. Carter stated that in her affidavit that she was not asked about the internal organs during the trial, so she didn’t take it into consideration,” Brumberger said. “The (federal appeals) court took that to mean the state didn’t present the evidence to her. She gave us the information to us. She had the information.

“I think this is a misunderstanding that will be cleared up in the federal district court,” he said.

Brumberger said the state has sought own its own experts to refute the new cardiac tissue evidence.

To go to original and see related items: here

Amnesty International USA Urgent Appeal: here

Larry Swearingen Case Particulars website: here

Monday, January 26, 2009

Uganda Update & DP:No place in a Democracy

Two Today, Monday, from Rick's DP News & Updates (see his and many other links on lower right side of this front page)


'MPs should revise death penalty'

The Supreme Court that last week upheld the death penalty is asking Parliament to review the capital punishment since no condemned prisoner has been executed in a decade.

Led by Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki, the seven judges ruled last Tuesday that courts cannot hijack the role of the legislature to "abrogate a substantive provision of the Constitution by a process of interpreting oneprovision against another." "This is the work of the legislature. We wish to urge that the Legislature should re-open debate on the desirability of the death penalty in our Constitution…"

This advice, which is non-binding, means the fate of the 418 death row inmates, who unsuccessfully petitioned court to expunge the punishment of death sentence, could now be decided by the vote of MPs. The judges said, "there is nothing to stop Uganda from introducing legislation to amend the Constitution and abolish the death sentence."

The justices also said an infinite delay by the President to pardon or vary sentences for condemned prisoners is “unreasonable.” But Mr Peter Walubiri, a constitutional lawyer, said it was odd that the judges, who pointed out the conflict between Articles 21 and 44 of the Constitution in regard to the sanctity of life, could not quash the death penalty, which is "cruel, inhuman and degrading." "The Supreme Court judges are not 'activist' enough; they were shy to interprete one constitutional provision against another and yet it is their role – as the highest court in the land - to harmonise the Constitution," Mr Walubiri said yesterday. "If you cannot harmonise conflicting provisions, you strike out one and the principle is that you uphold fundamental human rights in the Constitution," he said.

Mr Walubiri said it is surprising that the justices, who ruled against the mandatory death sentence, and decided that convicts who stay 3 or more years on death row after the Supreme Court confirms their sentences, should automatically have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment, could say it is only Parliament's duty to make laws.

During the formulation of the Constitution, majority Ugandans said the capital penalty be retained for the worst crimes. Subsequently, the Constituent Assembly sanctioned the capital punishment, which is an automatic sentence for persons convicted of crimes such as murder, kidnap with intent to murder, aggravated robbery and treason.

(source: Opinion, Tabu Butagira, Daily Monitor)


Death penalty has no place in a democracy

If you think that the recent re-affirmation of the death penalty will be good for democracy, think again. Although scrutiny of laws and judicial processes is a healthy exercise, giving the state a licence to kill binds society in fear and makes self-determination less likely, not more so.

Why do we rage at people murdering children in ritual sacrifice, gunning down pedestrians in a bank robbery, or hacking neighbours to death with pangas but cheer as the killers mount the scaffold? Perhaps we think ourselves safe from such a fate, but most criminals carry out their acts not believing or not caring that they will be caught. In this regard, little separates them from you except their willingness to kill. But we are prepared to do it too, though not with our own hands. We delegate the power of life and death to the government.

If the state, sanctioned by the people, is capable of murdering undesirables then it is capable of other forms of violence against other subjects. The people, inured to this official violence, come to believe they are exempt from it or powerless to stop it and thus accept it. The government thereby acquires freedom of manoeuvre within these limits of tolerance, to ignore laws or spend resources without accountability. When this happens we say the government is corrupt or remote from the people. Even where the government punishes its own it is merely reacting to a crime, and it is always ready to punish those outside the government in the name of law and order.

Consider that punishment is really a form of self-deception. When we punish someone we believe it a fair return for an affront to some set of rules, and it often affords us a sense of security if not satisfaction. But done regularly, punishment stops us from seeing and then taking steps which could prevent social or behavioral problems which we think merited punishment in the first place. We fool ourselves into thinking that the crime or the corruption ends with the execution of the murderer or the dismissal of the minister.

Any society obsessed with punishment cannot fully contemplate reform because the basis of reform is the recognition and forgiveness of mistakes. If we are too busy hanging people then we won’t look closely at the social origins of the crimes which lead to executions. Poverty, ethnic and religious discrimination, and the dwindling of hope do not themselves kill people, but they shape the people who do. Unless we address those problems we will watch a growing stream of offenders die for a growing list of crimes in which we ourselves are complicit when we give the hangman a free hand.

When we sponsor state violence through the death penalty, and when we ensure a ready supply of candidates for death row with our obsession with punishment over reform, we abdicate our responsibility to govern ourselves. Since self-determination is the beginning and end of democracy, we are giving it up even as we congratulate ourselves on our commitment to public safety. And the government will take all you care to give it and join in the celebration of the rule of law.

The trouble with the rule of law and democracy is that laws are made by people and serve the interests of their creators. You and I did not create the law governing capital punishment. You may say that your elected representatives created it, but how much do they really have in common with you? If you are facing execution will you go quietly? If you believe in the justice of the death penalty then you should answer Yes. But if you doubt the certainty with which the judiciary pronounces guilt and the fairness of its punishment then you cannot be an advocate of the state killing its own people.

There are more effective ways to ensure the safety of citizens and property than the ritual murdering of rule breakers dressed up as justice. To endorse the death penalty is to advertise a commitment to the oppression of one part of society by another. A genuine democracy has no place for capital punishment.

(source: Opinion, Machael Madill, Daily Monitor)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Officer speaks of forgiveness

WILBRAHAM - New York City Detective Steven D. McDonald, a paraplegic since he was shot in the spine by a teenager in Central Park in 1986 in the line of duty, told his story to students at Wilbraham & Monson Academy yesterday. Both his arms and legs are paralyzed.

McDonald told the students that what he learned after he was shot was that he could not do his job or live his life fully "if I wasn't close to God."

So he said he forgave the 15-year-old boy who shot him.

A Catholic, McDonald has taken his message of forgiveness to Northern Ireland. He has written a story included in a book by Protestant writer Johann Christoph Arnold entitled "Why Forgive?" which contains 50 stories of forgiveness.

McDonald said that when he forgave his attacker, "pain, hurt and anger" were lifted from him.

"Forgiveness is the key to a door to a better future," he said. "It is a way forward for our country."

[...]He told the students that his Irish Catholic family members have served on the New York City Police Department since the early 1900s. His father and grandfather both served in the New York City Police Department, and both were injured in the line of duty.

McDonald credited his survival to the love of his wife, Patti Ann McDonald.

"We were newly married, and she never gave up on me," he said. He added that in the year and a half he spent in the hospital he learned "My life is not my own, and the world is bigger than I ever imagined."

His son, Conor, was born six months after he was shot. At his son's baptism, he said he chose to forgive the boy who shot him.

"It's not about all that earthly stuff," McDonald told the students. "We are here to love each other."

He told the students that each of them is unique and each was made to do great things with their lives.[...]
By SUZANNE McLAUGHLIN, taken from mass

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Photographer finds forgiveness on death row

DALLAS — John Holbrook, a former crime scene photographer, takes portraits of the men and women on death row in Texas. Holbrook's project began as a way to address his own trauma over seeing horrific crime scene images at work.

The message of Holbrook's work is ultimately about forgiveness and how it can empower victims to move past traumatic events.

In the featured story, News 8 photojournalist, Doug Burgess, along with reporter David Schechter, take you inside Texas' Death Row for a rare glimpse at the people behind the headlines.

Holbrook will lecture and exhibit his work at Southern Methodist University on Thursday, January 29th at 7 p.m. at the McCord Auditorium located at 306 Dallas Hall.

Please watch video here
(taken from

Writing For Their Lives: Death Row USA

BOOKS: Love, life and death on Execution Row

Writing for Their Lives: Death Row USA

edited by Marie Mulvey Roberts

University of Illinois Press, $19.95

IF I had nothing more to do each day than consider matters of life and death and all that happened in between from the confines of an 8ft x 8ft cell then I'd probably be a much better writer. I'd probably also go insane and hope to die before someone else killed me. The madness of death row in the USA is described in graphic detail in this collection of testimonies, short stories and poems. In addition to contributions from prisoners, included are accounts from people employed in the business of killing: defence lawyers, psychiatrists, spiritual advisers, abolitionists and executioners.

The journey to a horrific and excruciating death is documented from a capital trial to the point of execution through the testimony of the prisoners themselves and those who love, watch, listen and write to them. It is an uncomfortable journey, however far removed you may be from the ultimate destination when you embark on it.

Whether it is the careless humiliations heaped upon Martin Draughton's elderly and infirm mother by his jailers when she comes to visit him on death row in Texas, or the complicity of the guards in allowing a violent assault on Michael Ross, a serial killer from Connecticut, by another (non-death row) prisoner, conditions on death row mean it is nothing short of miraculous that residents make it to the death chamber at all.

When they do, prisoners can expect to be gassed, injected with a lethal cocktail of drugs that shuts down the vital organs one by one, a process that can take up to half an hour to complete, or electrocution, depending on which state condemned them to die in the first place. In many states death row prisoners are not allowed any form of socialisation with each other and some are even denied their choice of spiritual adviser if they do not practice a recognised, sanctioned religion.

Most moving, inevitably, are the testimonies of the prisoners themselves. Most do not question either their guilt or their fate, accepting their lot with resignation. It is a tragic expectation of American life that if you are poor or black – or both – then this is the way things have always been.

It is the accounts from those in a position to effect change that carry the most weight. These include an account from former Illinois governor George Ryan, who became so concerned about miscarriages of justice on his watch that he took the unprecedented step of commuting the death sentences of all death row prisoners to life imprisonment.

For anyone brave enough to wonder what being killed by the state entails, Erika Trueman details the final hours leading up to the execution of her friend Ignacio Ortiz. In stark prose she takes you inside the prison, allowing you to wait those excrutiating final hours with her before being taken to the death chamber.

"The curtain opened and we saw Ignacio. He was already strapped onto the gurney, with a white sheet covering him up to his neck. We could not see the straps that held him, nor could we see the needles they had inserted ready for the poison to flow. Ignacio lay still. His eyes shut and head towards the ceiling. An officer announced that there was no stay [of execution]. The microphone was switched off and the officer walked out without looking at the man waiting to die. Ignacio's head and chest heave up once as if he was choking. He breathes twice more, and lies still, his mouth slightly open. An officer came in and announced: 'Death at 3.05pm.' It was as if the man on the gurney did not exist, as if he had already gone, left his humanity behind like an old coat that one can just take off or put on as one pleases."

Very few books have the power to change the world. This book is unlikely to be the exception. And for that we should all be very sorry indeed.

(source: Tribune Magazine; Cary Gee)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Preventing Children from becoming Victims of Injustice and Execution

GO here to find out more about Edward's work -- and reflect that he, who has been part of The Journey of Hope with us and has been so long on death row in Uganda -- is now supervising such a project as this! Lisa Rhea, who was also with us in the last Texas Journey of Hope, is also mentioned here.
Bless you, Edward -- hope to say more about you and this project very soon...

Thank you for your vision to help prevent crimes which come out of poverty and anger and children who may otherwise one day end up on death row...


BBC NEWS Uganda court keeps death penalty

Death Row Prisoners in Uganda have formed a choir. Our Brother Edward Mgagi (Mpagi Edmary) will most likely has more to tell us soon about this choir and about this latest legal development. See his post just below...We will NOT be silent - nor will we give up in supporting Uganda's abolition struggle...Stay Strong, Edward!

We will continue to support the human rights groups who are supporting the abolition of the death penalty in Uganda.

Since we at The Journey are a most internationally-active group, we often post items from various places even outside the US...this is one unique aspect with Journey among many.

Uganda court keeps death penalty

Uganda's Supreme Court has ruled in a case involving more than 400 death row inmates that the death penalty is constitutional.

However, it said that hanging was cruel and recommended that parliament consider another means of execution.

The judges also said it was unreasonable to keep convicts on death row for more than three years.

It means most of the prisoners involved in the case will have their sentences commuted to life in prison.

Although the death penalty has not been used since 1999, the court said it acted as a deterrent to murder.

But the judges also ruled that a mandatory death sentence - a legal term meaning that the penalty for murder is automatically death - was unconstitutional.

Parliament was asked to consider a means of execution other than hanging.

"I would agree with the respondents that hanging as a method of execution as it is carried out in Uganda is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment," Justice Egonda-Ntende said.


The BBC's Joshua Mmali in the capital, Kampala, says four prisoners were in court for the ruling.

Susan Kigula, the woman who led the other prisoners in filing the original petition, wept painfully as the actual implications of the ruling dawned on her.

Our reporter says whereas fellow petitioners on death row may escape the death penalty following the ruling, her plight is still unclear.

Her death sentence was only confirmed by an appeal court about a year ago.

It means she could still be hanged within the next two years, unless the president pardons her under the presidential prerogative of mercy.

The prisoners' appeal was supported by Ugandan human rights groups.

The Supreme Court's decisions reaffirmed the verdict of the Constitutional Court in 2005.

The attorney general had sought to overturn the 2005 ruling on the mandatory death penalty.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/01/21 17:05:26 GMT


NOTE: For about a week, we at this blog may have difficulty posting every day...we will see--So --IF this blogsite is somewhat "quiet" for a short few days, please be sure to go to the links on the lower right, to our website, and to earlier blogs here which are not at all dated -- look for additional photos which will be added to the appropriate posts here below. INTERACT with us! Be patient for your COMMENTS to post as they are moderated and my co-blogger, Susanne and I may be tied up with abolition and human rights work for a few days. THANX so much for tuning in!)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Uganda: Letter of Gratitude from Edward Mpagi

Also uses the name: mpagi edmary

Edward was with The Journey of Hope when we were in Texas and worked with Amnesty International as well...

Dear Connie (and The Journey of Hope)

Am very happy to hear from you ,thank you for your kind response.

I appreciate the good work you are doing to end the death penalty .

About my life:

Once again thanks to Journey of Hope and Amnesty International for medical support they gave me while I was in US ,I have never experienced any pain after the operation, my life is good.

About my work:

Am happy after my campaigns with amnesty at the UN, The UN voted for a moratorium on death penalty among the UN member states, a big step in the abolition fight.

Am happy to tell you that my story of how I was convicted innocently for alleged murder of a person who was found to be alive, WON A LOCAL TV AWARD a big step in the abolition fight in Uganda.

Ever since I petitioned the constitution court, the state has not executed any inmate since 1999 when it executed 28 inmates, a big step in the abolition fight.

I managed to link up Kathy Chism a good friend ,and founder of Dream One World Inc based in California .


We are working on construction of a school to benefit the disadvantaged children in Uganda , including the kids of death row inmates, victims of aids disease.

Our construction plans are in progress, though we are deeply affected by the global economic crisis.

After my trip to US and Italy I have heard interviews with local radio and TV stations

My testimony has been heard all over Uganda ,and now more people are aware of the existence and dangers of death penalty .

I managed to have interview with BBC world services with Ray Kroone, speaking about the evils of death penalty, millions of people across the globe listened to our programme.

I organized a Christmas party for the disadvantaged children; they played together, sung songs of hope, and spoke to them about how God loves them, it will be an annual party.

Thank you Connie

Best regards


UGANDA: Supreme Court rules on death penalty today

The Supreme Court, in a landmark death penalty decision today, could spare the lives of over 570 condemned prisoners, if the ruling turns in their favour. The verdict, at the country's highest court, comes close to 4 years after government appealed against an earlier Constitutional Court ruling that upheld that mandatory death sentences were unconstitutional.

It followed a petition filed in 2003 by the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, a human rights body, on behalf of 417 death row inmates, contesting the constitutionality of the death penalty which they said was cruel and inhumane. FHRI has been at the forefront of advocating for the abolition of the death penalty, which they argue is a violation of the right to life.

In July 2005, the Constitutional Court ruled that mandatory death sentences are unconstitutional, although overall, the court upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty.

FHRI Executive Director Livingstone Sewanyana told Daily Monitor yesterday that he was hopeful that today’s ruling would turn up in their favour.

"Our view is that the Supreme Court will use its wisdom to come out with a ruling that is favourable and it's the people of Uganda that will ultimately benefit," he said.

If the ruling turns in favour of the petitioners, it could lead to the reversal of hundreds of death sentences handed to inmates over the years. Uganda has not enforced the death penalty since 28 men were hanged on April 28, 1999. South Africa, Cape Verde and Rwanda are some of the African countries in Africa that have abolished the death penalty.

(source: Daily Monitor)

Watch for something from our Uganda brother, Edward Mpagi soon!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

“Give us tears…give us anger…” Prayer on Sister Helen's blog

Gene Robinson’s powerful inauguration invocation
Posted on January 19th, 2009 by Sister Helen Prejean on her blog
“Give us tears…give us anger…”

Bishop Gene Robinson delivered the invocation at the kickoff event for Obama’s inauguration. I am thankful for his words, which I am committing to memory. I want to quote the entire text of his invocation:

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.


Dr. King and President Obama on the Death Penalty & Civil Rights

Martin Luther King and the Death Penalty Movement

Most of the world has abolished the immoral and barbaric practice of the death penalty. Yet the United States continues to condemn men and women to death. Nearly all of the people this country executes are poor and/or people of color, and many of them suffer from mental retardation or mental illness.
The use of capital punishment is an example of how we as a nation continue to try to solve social justice issues with use of violence. The religious community has a responsibility to raise the issue of the immorality of the death penalty.

The death penalty is a microcosm of the problems we have with violence in general.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rejected the violence of the death penalty as have many of his family members. As a way to build on his legacy, the Religious Organizing Against the Death Penalty Project will launch the I Dream A World campaign on the January 2002 holiday...

Many religious leaders such as Rev. Bernice King, Rev. James Lawson, Sister Helen Prejean, Arun Gandhi, Rabbi David Sapperstein and Rabbi Beerman called for an end to the death penalty...

Sending cards to government officials calling for an end ot capital punishment is (one)of many ways to be involved.

Reach out to correspond and/or visit those on death row.

Remember to provide support to victims of violence.

See more from This American Friends Service Committee project during it's origins

Obama on the Death Penalty
Barack Obama Obama has written that he thinks the death penalty "does little to deter crime." He supports capital punishment in cases in which "the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage." While a state senator, Obama pushed for reform of the Illinois capital punishment system and authored a bill to mandate the videotaping of interrogations and confessions. Obama disagreed with the June 25, 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing the execution of child rapists. Posted on the Pew Forum

Published today after Obama became our 44th President

Maybe completely rejecting the death penalty isn't far away for Obama, who needs our citizen and group pressures...

A Triumph for Civil Rights

Monday, January 19, 2009

Death Penalty in Africa: Amnesty International

As we remember Obama's African Connection...and record the progress with Abolition in that continent and/or it's rare use...

Amnesty International Press release
16 January 2009

Following the commutation of the death sentences of 53 prisoners to custodial sentences by the President of Zambia, Amnesty International renewed its call for the government to join the worldwide trend towards the abolition of the death penalty.

"We are encouraged by the commutation of these sentences by President Banda. The next move should be to take all the necessary steps to end capital punishment and bring about legislative changes to abolish the death penalty in Zambia" said Amy Agnew, Amnesty International’s Zambia campaigner.

The decision to commute the death sentences was announced by the Vice-President, George Kunda, in a statement released in the capital Lusaka on Tuesday.

"His excellency the President, Rupiah Bwezani Banda, has pardoned and commuted sentences of 53 prisoners on death row at Mukobeko prison, Kabwe, to terminable custodial sentences or life imprisonment pursuant to Article 59 of the Republican Constitution," Mr Kunda was reported to have said.

Article 59 of the constitution states that the President may inter alia "substitute a less severe form of punishment for any punishment imposed on any person for any offence."

In Zambia, the death penalty is provided for under various offences. Despite the fact that Zambia has not executed anybody since 1997, it unfortunately did not vote in favour of UN General Assembly resolution 63/168, in December 2008, calling for a moratorium on executions.

In August, 2007, President Mwanawasa commuted the death sentences of 97 prisoners who were on death row to life imprisonment.

As of today, 138 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. The continent of Africa is largely free of executions, with only seven of the 53 African Union member states known to have carried out executions in 2007: Botswana, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.

HREA - here

Coretta Scott King: Murder Victim Family Member Against the Death Penalty

As we remember the life of Martin Luther King, Jr today, we can also reflect on how his widow viewed capital punishment.

Coretta Scott King, the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., died in 2006 at the age of 78. She is remembered for many brave and selfless acts, including her steady opposition to capital punishment.

The widow of one of the nation's most famous murder victims frequently voiced her opposition to the death penalty with a very powerful argument.

"As one whose husband and mother-in-law have died the victims of murder and assassination, I stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offenses," she said. "An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life. Morality is never upheld by a legalized murder".

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Update on Jeff Wood by His Sister Terri Been

The post below is by Terri Been, who is the sister of Jeff Wood.

Hello everybody. I thought I would write just a few lines to give you an update on Jeff. I was able to see him a couple of days ago, and I am happy to report he is in much better spirits than the last time I saw him. (He is still being harassed, and he is still without his property, but @ least he is ALIVE!!!)

He has gained back about 5 pounds of the 30 + pounds he lost when they starved him during the Texas prison lockdown. yeah!!! I wish I could report that the harassment of the inmates and their families was over, but it is NOT.

The harassment Jeff is still facing by Polunsky staff is a direct result of false accusations. (The "boss men" believe Jeff owns and possesses a cell phone; which he doesn't. nor has he ever.) In an effort to divert attention elsewhere, Tabler gave a list of people who had phones, and people he "thought" had phones (Jeff's name was on the list that Tabler provided).

Jeff has had his property taken on several occasions, and has been "searched" himself for "contraband". In addition to the body "searches", they have x-rayed him on several occasions as well. Not once have they found anything because he has NO contraband.Yet they keep searching him and his cell. He yet AGAIN has No radio, NO hotplate, NO fan, NO Nothing. oh, but hey, he got his mattress back after several weeks of sleeping on cold steel so he should be happy right? ?? (If you didn't catch it, that sentence was DRIPPING with sarcasm!)

He faces hell on the best day, but the last couple of months have been really hard on him and many others.

I feel that my brother needs some positive attention to "divert" his attention away from all of the negative he is facing; so if you have a few extra minutes. I humbly ask that you drop him a few lines or a card.

SADLY, Jeff STILL faces execution for a murder he DID NOT COMMIT, and the media still refers to him as "condemned inmate Jeffrey Wood."

Currently, Jeff's competency is being evaluated by professionals hired by his lawyers. The results from the evaluation and a petition for Jeff will be filed by his lawyers on January 20th, 2009. Once this happens, a competency hearing will be scheduled. We will let you know when we hear the date.

Until then, we have been urged to continue looking for public support. Jeff has just over 1300 signatures, and we need around 20,000 to make a difference, so we have a long way to go!!!! WE NEED SIGNATURES. (This can be done: Currently Reginald Perkins has over 16,000 signatures and we need that kind of support as well.) We also need letters of support for Jeff, and we need you to contact the Texas Law Makers about the Law of Parties, especially now since there is a BILL up for review to end the Law of Parties - AS IT APPLIES TO THE DEATH PENALTY!!! (But we can't do this without your help or support.) We need these lawmakers to hear our voices and our concerns!!! One of the problems that I see with the law is that it will NOT be retroactive; so it will NOT help those who have already been convicted of this (my brother for instance); BUT I have been informed that there is a possibility that someone could make an amendment to that bill to "cover" the retroactive. if there was public support for it, SO PLEASE CONTACT THE TEXAS LAWMAKERS!!!

I am starting to collect letters once again in support for Jeff. It does NOT matter if you have previously written, we need more as we had to "start over". I ask that you not send them directly to the Board of Pardons or Paroles as of yet. Please send me your letters via my e-mail @ and address it as Clemency Letter for Jeff in the subject Box and I will make sure that Jeff's lawyers has these for the hearing and the future clemency package. I do ask however that you please keep a copy on file so when it comes closer, you can directly send your letter to the Governor via the link on Jeff's page in addition to our submitting it by paper!

If anybody has any ideas on how to help. I would love to hear them!!!!

It Won't Stop Until We Talk-- A Palestinian's Story of Forgiveness

this motto is just as relevant to our abolition cause as it is to so many issues that involve revenge or the alternative...

Osama Abu Ayash

To all who are interested, my name is Osama Taleb Abed El Magid Abu Ayash. I was born and live in the village Beit Omar – Hebron. I was born on 11/02/1966, had a usual childhood and went to Primary school in the village. I learned to read and write and many other things about life. I got to know my relatives and my mother’s family who come from Nablus (Shechem). I came to know my country, my national home Palestine...

My father told me of the pain and bitterness he felt after his father had fallen and the land was occupied by the Jews. He told me about the occupation of all of Palestine, about the ‘48 war and the ’67 war. I was then one year old and he carried me and walked with my mother, my grandmother, and me to the cave, which existed on the land owned by us in the name of Abu Ayash. The cave exists till today. My father was sickly and I was always worried that I would lose him. I loved him very much and could not imagine a situation that I would have to live without him...

...Our standard of living went from bad to worse until we barely had bread to eat due to the expenses on treatments that my father needed. He died in 1982. He was born in 1922. I was seventeen in the eleventh grade so I left school and started to work in difficult jobs such as driving a tractor and such like. With my salary we bought a new electric weaving machine and then I went back to school and continued working. I continued to study and worked as a plasterer. I obtained a diploma in psychology but did not work in that profession.

Life was not easy. Everything was difficult because the occupation did not leave me in peace. I was arrested three times, the last time in 1990, an event I remember well and will never forget because the investigators invented all sorts of ways and means to hurt me mentally and physically. The methods used were: to leave me naked, put me into a small cupboard, they used electricity, hot and freezing water, tied my hands and feet whilst I was standing, not letting me go to the bathroom so I dirtied myself. They suspected me of having taken part in shots that were fired on a settlers’ bus on the way to Hebron. The perpetrators were apprehended and I was released and the investigator apologized to me for the torture I had been through. I did not belong to any political organization and did not participate in resistance to the occupation. I was investigated simply because I was busy trying to feed my large family. I started to take an interest in the Fatah movement after they chose the path of Oslo and peace...

...My wife’s eldest brother was not present at our wedding as he was imprisoned for four years. He was released a year later. A second brother, Kamal, was 20 years old when he fell on 6.4.2002.

Kamal’s story and his joining the resistance in Nablus began when he was 18 and worked for a garage not far from his home. He used to walk to work and one day on the way home Israeli soldiers stopped him and checked and interrogated him. They asked for his I.D.’ asked where he had come from and what his destination was and he answered. One soldier asked: “why are you laughing? And he answered: I am not laughing. I just have a smiling face. He soldier insisted, you are laughing at me and besides what is all the black stuff on your hands, were you preparing a bomb or a belt? No, Kamal answered, it is dirt caused by my work at the garage. You can come to the garage and see. The soldiers starting beating him with their hands and feet and their guns until he fell on the road. They left him bleeding and went on their way.

Kamal did not die but he was badly wounded and lost a lot of blood from his ear... . He decided to take his revenge on these soldiers even if it would cost him his life. He said to his friends that he has a job, and he has money with which he will buy a gun, that he will search for the soldiers and take revenge. He felt that he would never forget their villainous faces.

Kamal was released from hospital and did what he threatened to do...Kamal was wanted until he was slain on 6/4/2002 when he was 20. He was killed but they did not succeed in disarming him. Tayseer, his brother aged 19 inherited the gun and he decided to revenge his brother, Kamal. Tayseer fell a year later for the same reason and by the same method.

The importance of the above story is what happened to my wife after she lost her brother Tayseer...

To read this story in full, please go here

Also read the NEW item on The Parents Circle:What's New?
Just published on 14/01/2009

We, the Palestinian and Israeli Members of the PCFF, Bereaved Families Supporting Reconciliation and Peace Make This Urgent Appeal;

To those who can make a difference to the daily reality of the Palestinian and Israeli people

To those who know that the negotiation of a cease fire is not enough and that it would only mean a temporary hiatus until the next round of killing...

To those who care about both peoples

To those who only care about one side

We implore you to force all sides to sit around a table...and find a way to stop the never ending cycle of violence so that finally we can live with a permanent sense of safety and dignity, which every nation deserves...

"The image of the enemy is a moral and political burden because you are negotiating with someone whom only yesterday you called a...a murderer... You promised your followers that this person would be severely punished as a reward for the oppression they had lived through. Your followers, meanwhile, are telling you justice requires punishment. They ask: "How can you negotiate and talk to a person who is responsible for all the disasters of our people? ....I AM NEGOTIATING BECAUSE I HAVE CHOSEN THE LOGIC OF PEACE and abandoned the logic of war. This means my enemy of yesterday must become my partner. He may still be my opponent but he is an opponent within peace..."

Adam Michnik - Polish Activist


PHILIPPINES: DP -- Media & Sanctity of Life

Human Rights Reporting Project -- there is so much here parallel & related to US issues!

"How would (and how ever did) this fit in with the Church's view on the sanctity of life?" - excerpt from article below -

Given the furor over the case of the Alabang Boys and calls for the restoration of the death penalty, now is possibly a good time to ask if the media should to be taking any kind of stand on capital punishment.

On the one hand, some argue the media’s role should be to simply report news along with the views and opinions of others and so should have no position either way. Others however argue that the presence of Op-Ed (opinion-editorial) pages in newspapers proves the media has its own voice and that it should ultimately use it to monitor and protect society.

If one agrees with that latest statement, would the Philippine media be protecting or hurting society if it came out against, or in favor of, the death penalty? There are probably many different views on this and I guess that in the end may be part of the answer. Perhaps we shouldn't try and seek a collective position – but should simply be looking for a free, frank, full and sober debate across and through the media. In this way we avoid the issue being dominated by the politicians of fear.

A little more on that later.

Those who say that the Philippine media has no role to play here would do well to remember that Amnesty International whose position on the death penalty is very well known, was itself directly born out of a campaigning story run by the British Observer newspaper back in 1961 by the organization’s founder Peter Benenson. Four decades on, the same paper incidentally came out strongly in favor of the Iraq War to the dismay of many of its readers.

Following on from that and given the universal acceptance of the UN Declaration of Human Rights as a code of principles to respect and follow - and in particular Article 3, ('Everyone has the right to life') is it not right to insist all media and journalists should observe and support without exception the UN Resolution passed in December 2007 which called for a moratorium on the death penalty while seeking to end its actual practice the world over?

On the one hand and from a moral perspective we might be saying 'obviously', and 'yes'. But on the other, possibly 'no'. The UN has also adopted the Millennium Development Goals. Does that mean too that all journalists and media should sign up 100 % behind them and brook no dissent?

Journalism obviously goes hand in hand with dissent and free speech and the day dissent or alternative opinions from the mainstream are prescribed by law (or even mere convention) is the day real democracy dies.

Should a media outlet or journalist be condemned because they support the death penalty? Well I probably wouldn't buy them a beer, but it remains their right and that is something we must fight to protect.

Singapore voted against the UN Resolution on the Death Penalty (as did many others states) maintaining that capital punishment was a criminal and not a human rights issue and thus must be left to be determined by individual states. Some would agree with this, while others would not.

From media reports this week in Manila it seems senior drug enforcement officials at the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), alongside others advocate the reintroduction of the death penalty for serious drug offensives on the basis that they constitute "a security threat to the state" –i.e. the most serious of criminal acts.

But then, it could be argued, so too does 'terrorism' constitute a threat to the state; so too conflict; so too the credit crunch; so too the rice shortage; so too dissent – and so too the prospect of Manny Pacquiao finally losing to Ricky Hatton.

God knows what would happen then.

But should all these too become capital crimes because some deem them to be a security threat to the state? Or would this be a retrograde step?

Given the broad definition of what some in the Philippines see as a threat to the state and thus a possible capital crime, are we not in danger of heading down a slippery slope with the calls to show what has been reported in the media as 'tough love' and severely punish the few to save the many?

God knows if I were the head of an anti-drug task force in Manila and saw what was happening to what I might have thought was a water-tight case I too might have been left very angry and frustrated. But at the end of the day, we should not necessarily cite the Chinese model of control as an example to follow – and we need to acknowledge that the phrase 'a threat to the state' is a dangerous exaggeration that the media here would do well to pick up on. Such phrases are far more often heard and used in totalitarian countries than in real democracies.

Drugs and crime –and things like corruption- undermine and hurt society - but surely not the state.

The Thai authorities literally declared war on domestic drug dealers some years ago and hundreds of people were summarily executed by military and police death squads. Nobody in the Philippines is I hope proposing that, but there is a risk of overreacting. The danger is in demanding populist measures like the death penalty when the real issue seems to be a failure of the rule and operation of law.

If people who are proven guilty escape justice because of a corrupt system, then fix the system: introducing the ultimate penalty is no panacea for a broken system and officials and politicians should be wary of adopting cheap and easy populist platforms.

This brings us back to the issue of the media and the fact that some say at the last resort it should protect society (again, not the State) from demagoguery and dictators.

President Arroyo and the Department of Foreign Affairs deserve full credit for intervening in the case of overseas Filipino workers who stand on death row. Some would say that they are only doing their job, but how could they intervene with any real morality if capital punishment were to be reintroduced back home?

How would (and how ever did) this fit in with the Church's view on the sanctity of life?

It is all a very interesting and crucial issue to discuss: It would good to see the media join and not simply leave it to a few wily politicians and beleaguered officials to set the agenda and frame the debate.

(source: Pinoy Press----Alan Davis is the director of the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project) Also find at Rick Halperin's Death Penalty News & Updates --see his & other links on home page - bottom right)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

TEXAS: Dna doesn't match, but prosecutors unmoved

Lawyers for a Houston man sentenced to death in the 1994 killing of a 72-year-old grandmother argued for his release Friday, saying DNA test results exonerate him.

"I'm going to do my best to parlay this into a new trial," said Sarah Frazier, one of Charles D. Raby's attorneys. "We have the killer's DNA, and it's not my client's."

A Harris County jury sent Raby to death row nearly 15 years ago after finding that he stabbed Edna M. Franklin to death in her north Houston home.

Prosecutors presented evidence at the trial that Raby had been seen jumping Franklin's backyard fence on the night of the killing. Statements he made to investigators proved he was in Franklin’s home, jurors were told.

But recent DNA testing on genetic material found on Franklin's blood-caked fingernails points to someone else, Raby's lawyers contend.

Prosecutors, however, are arguing that the DNA results aren't enough to exonerate Raby. There is still plenty of evidence to prove he killed Franklin, they say.

"The absence of DNA doesn't mean he didn’t do it," said Assistant District Attorney Lynn Hardaway. Hardaway told state District Judge Joan Campbell that a lack of DNA, like a lack of a fingerprints, doesn't equal innocence.

Hardaway cited Raby's confession and other evidence presented at trial supporting the conviction.

Campbell said she would hear final arguments in about 6 weeks concerning whether the DNA evidence is favorable to the defense. If she rules it is, it could open the door to an appeal, Frazier said. She noted, however, there isn’t a clear path from a favorable ruling to a new trial.

Raby was a 22-year-old parolee with a violent history when Franklin took him into her home at her grandson's request. At his trial, prosecutors argued that Raby must have turned on Franklin when she told him he was no longer welcome in her home.

Her throat was slit twice, her ribs were broken, and she had been stabbed repeatedly with a pocketknife.

Raby had a prior conviction for aggravated robbery with a knife, and he had been jailed in 1989 after being accused of attacking his parents. A doctor testified at his trial that Raby, who had a tattoo on his torso reading "Texas outlaw," was a sociopath.

After attending Friday's hearing, Raby's mother maintained that her son is innocent.

"I hope he gets off death row," said Betty Wearstler. "It's depressing. It's a very sad life."

After the hearing, Franklin's grandsons noted that Franklin knew Raby.

Theory disputed

"He was one of those kind you knew, but you weren't crazy about being around," said Benge, 39, standing outside his grandmother's north Lindale Park home. "The kind of guy, if you saw him walking down the street, you'd turn off your lights so he'd think you weren’t at home."

2 weeks before Franklin’s murder, he stopped by the frail, arthritic woman's house on Westford Street and asked to stay there. She told him to get off her property, said Rose, contacted at his home in Alabama.

"He got mad, and he threw a 40-ounce beer bottle on her porch and broke it," said Rose, 37.

Both Rose and Benge believe Raby killed their grandmother.

"I know that he did it," said Benge. "There's no doubt he did it."

Both men discount Raby's theory that her killer's DNA could be found under her fingernails.

"She weighed under 100 pounds. How much fighting back could she have done?" Rose said.

(source: Houston Chronicle)

Hello, I found this piece above on Death Penalty News & Updates, posted faithfully & nearly daily by Dr. Rick Halperin...find his site easily along with others by going to the lower right of this weblog. Today (posted yesterday) you will find also, if you scroll down on Rick's site, material on a new Death Penalty book, which looks like an excellent resource. Also there is a poignant note by the mother of Hudson's daughter. Hudson was recently executed.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Forgiveness as an Art: Tools, Skills and Raw Materials

“If forgiveness is an art, then we should be able to talk about the tools, the skills, and the raw materials with which the artist must become acquainted,” wrote Sunny Jacobs, who spent 26 years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Click on the word here below to see more on Sunny's story and others about the ART of forgiveness..

From the first edition of The A Word: an arts magazine, compiled by and written for ex-prisoners

Today, Friday, January 16 and Saturday, January 17th are the last two days of Universal Letter-Writing Week

Or go to here

Some general suggestions/tools for writing this letter...

MARYLAND - HEADS UP: Breakthrough Today! Action in MD. needed!

The Maryland repeal effort is now officially in it's next phase -- the Governor announced today that he will personally sponsor the repeal bill and will do everything he can to pass it. This obviously is tremendous news, and something we've been hoping for for a long time. The campaign now kicks up many notches!

The Governor's institutional support gives great weight to the bill, but it is still a long road ahead and Governor O'Malley needs the full support of the larger abolition community to be very strongly behind him in order for him to be successful. But please note: the opportunities are different depending on where you live.

Do you live outside of Maryland? If so, please do NOT contact Maryland legislators or the Governor. It is much better that Maryland policy makers hear from their own voters/citizens/tax payers. So the question is, who do you know in Maryland? If you have friends, family, colleagues, etc. who live in Maryland, please ask them to sign up with Maryland Citizens Against State Executions here and to take the actions suggested by that organization.

Do you live in Maryland?

This is all hands on deck. We need Marylanders all across the state calling and writing their legislators, hosting events, tabling at churches, distributing yard signs, and more. This is the time. If everyone makes repeal in Maryland a priority, we will be another state down in less than 90 days! Sign up today here and get involved!

Thank you for taking action today.


Abraham J. Bonowitz
Director of Affiliate Support
National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty here

Here's the Washington Post article from this morning.

O'Malley Begins Quest To Repeal Death Penalty

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 16, 2009; A01

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said yesterday that he will for the first time personally sponsor a bill and do "everything in [his] power" to abolish capital punishment in Maryland, signaling his desire to make the issue a chief accomplishment as he enters the second half of his term.

O'Malley said in an interview that he plans to invest heavy political capital to persuade the General Assembly to pass a repeal bill during its current 90-day legislation session, even asking lawmakers to work around a Senate committee that has kept such a bill from passing before if necessary.

During his first two years, the governor has established a track record of muscling through difficult legislation, including a bill setting up a public vote on slot-machine gambling and a package of tax increases and spending cuts. But his promised introduction of a death-penalty repeal bill will face strong opposition, probably leading to a major political battle.

O'Malley said the death penalty is not a deterrent, wastes resources that could be better spent fighting violent crime and leaves the state open to the possibility of executing innocent people. "That risk alone should be enough to repeal it and substitute it with life without parole," he said.

The governor's stepped-up effort comes at a time when other states have been rethinking the merits of the death penalty and with Maryland at a crossroads on the issue. A state commission led by former U.S. attorney general Benjamin R. Civiletti recently recommended abolition, but local prosecutors who support capital punishment have urged O'Malley to issue the regulations needed to end a court-imposed moratorium on executions.

The 37 executions that took place nationally last year marked a 14-year low and continued a downward trend after peaking in 1999, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In late 2007, New Jersey became the first state in a generation to abolish the death penalty; others are considering it.

"I'm going to lobby people on the merits of the issue," said O'Malley, a Catholic who has long opposed the death penalty. "I just feel personally compelled to try."

After a meeting with O'Malley yesterday, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), a capital punishment supporter, said he would continue to talk with the governor but said changing votes will be tough.

"When you're middle-aged, your mind is pretty much set on issues like this," Miller said. "It's not an issue you can lobby. He's going to push hard, but I'm not sure he's going to be successful."

It is unclear how many minds O'Malley would need to change, because repeal bills have not been debated by the full House or Senate in recent years. Death penalty opponents claim that a majority in both chambers support repeal, although the bill could face a filibuster in the Senate, further complicating passage.

Maryland has executed five people since it reinstated the death penalty in 1978. Five inmates are on death row.

The state has had a de facto moratorium on capital punishment since December 2006, the month before O'Malley took office, after the state's highest court ruled that procedures for lethal injection had not been properly adopted. O'Malley has declined to issue new regulations allowing executions to resume.

O'Malley indicated yesterday that he would like to see votes on a repeal bill by the full House and Senate before allowing regulations to be put in place. He said he is hopeful that the Senate committee would approve the bill during the session that started this week, sending it to the floor for a vote by the full chamber. But the membership of the 11-member committee has not changed since 2007, when a repeal bill fell one vote short, despite testimony by O'Malley urging its passage.

Last year, the committee declined to vote on a similar bill, given the likelihood of the same result.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), the committee's chairman, said yesterday that he was not aware of any votes that have changed but that it is possible O'Malley's imprint on the bill could make a difference.

"There's a little more force behind it," said Frosh, who supports repealing the death penalty.

If the bill remains stalled in committee, O'Malley suggested that the chamber consider using one of several parliamentary procedures that could allow the proposal to move to the floor without committee approval.

Those moves are very rare, although O'Malley said one was used when the Senate reinstated the death penalty in Maryland. At the time, O'Malley's father-in-law, J. Joseph Curran (D), a death penalty opponent, was chairman of the committee that was bypassed. He later served as Maryland's attorney general.

Miller said he urged O'Malley during their meeting to work within the committee system. In a recent interview, Miller said bypassing the committee "would mean turmoil on the floor."

The House of Delegates has not taken any votes on repealing the death penalty in the past two years while the bill has been stalled in the Senate. House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said in a recent interview that he believes there are enough votes to pass a repeal bill in his chamber but that he would like the Senate to act first.

In yesterday's interview, O'Malley cited the General Assembly's decision to let voters decide last November whether to authorize slot-machine gambling in Maryland, ending years of legislative paralysis on the issue.

"If that had enough moral gravity attached to it to do that, certainly the repeal of the death penalty has enough moral gravity attached to be considered by the full House and Senate," O'Malley said.


ILLINOIS: Death Penalty Too Costly; DP around the world

NEW items at Death Penalty Info dot org

NEW VOICES: Illinois Judge Testifies that Death Penalty Too Costly to Keep
Posted: January 15, 2009

Retired Cook County Judge Sheila Murphy testified at the Chicago Bar Association Committee that the costs of the death penalty were too high for Illinois. “We’re in just terrible economic times,” Judge Murphy said. “The state of Illinois is in deep trouble, and we should not be squandering money on the death penalty when they’re such a great need – not just with victims but with the elderly, with children, for healthcare, and for education.” Judge Murphy cited studies that have shown the cost of sentencing someone to death was much more expensive than a sentence of life in prison without parole due to the costs of prosecution, appeals, and legal defense. In addition, the city of Chicago and the State of Illinois are paying the extra costs of multi-million dollar payouts for wrongful death sentences, the latest being $7.5 million to exonerated death penalty inmate Madison Hobley.

The Chicago Bar Association Committee has unanimously recommended abolishing the death penalty in Illinois. With a 10-0 vote, the group’s criminal law committee, recommended doing away with the death penalty due in part to the increased costs of capital punishment over life in prison and the risks of executing an innocent person.

RESOURCES: The Angolite Explores Capital Punishment Internationally
Posted: January 14, 2009

The prison news magazine The Angolite features an in-depth piece on the use of capital punishment around the world in its recent issue. Citing a 2008 Amnesty International report, the article notes that China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, and the United States lead the world in executions. Japan, the only other industrialized democracy besides the U.S. that uses capital punishment, averages five executions a year but is known for inhumane death row conditions. Author and inmate Lane Nelson details the conditions, the methods, and the controversies surrounding capital punishment in China, Iran, and Japan.

Find the rest of both above articles...Go

Introducing the Journey of Hope - Family:

Greg Wilhoit spent five years of his life on death row for a crime that he did not commit. He received a full exoneration in 1993, but life is still a struggle for Greg.

"At the sentencing," Wilhoit said, "the judge told me I was to die by lethal injection. Then he said, 'But if that fails, we'll kill you by electrocution. If the power goes out, we'll hang you. If the rope breaks, we'll take you out back and shoot you.'"

On June 1, 1985, Greg's wife Kathy was brutally murdered in Tulsa, Oklahoma, leaving Greg to raise two little girls 4 months and 14 months old. Almost a year later Greg was arrested and charged with Kathy's murder because two dental "experts", one of whom had been out of dental school less than a year, testified that a bite mark found on Kathy's body matched Greg's teeth.

Greg's parents hired an attorney who had a reputation as one of the top defense attorneys in Oklahoma to represent him. Unfortunately, in the preceding years the attorney had become an alcoholic and had developed alcohol-related brain damage. He embodied the definition of an incompetent attorney and did no preparation whatsoever for Greg's trial. He appeared in court drunk, threw up in the judge's chambers, and literally put on no defense. Greg was consequently found guilty and sentenced to death.

Greg was assigned an attorney, Mark Barrett, from the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System to handle his appeal. Barrett was convinced of Greg's innocence and worked tirelessly for over 4 years to help correct a terrible wrong. The 12 top forensic odontologists in the country examined the bite mark evidence and all 12 testified that the bite mark could not possibly be Greg's. Greg was eventually granted a new trial and was out on bail for two years while the District Attorney decided whether or not to retry the case. A second trial was held in 1993, but after the prosecution presented their case (without the bite mark evidence) the judge issued a directed verdict of innocence and Greg was cleared of all charges.

Greg lost 8 years of his life, the opportunity to raise his two daughters, his livelihood, and his physical and mental health. He now lives off social security checks because he continues to suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He has never received an apology or one penny in compensation. In 2003, the Oklahoma Legislature voted overwhelmingly to award exonerated inmates $200,000 for their time served in prison. However, Greg has yet to receive any compensation. Greg is trying to get on with his life, but it's not easy to get over the nightmarish trauma of those eight years.

For a long time after he was exonerated and released from Oklahoma's death row, Greg Wilhoit didn't know what to do with his life. He drank a lot and holed himself up in a little house in Oklahoma, its own sort of jail cell. He panicked when a police cruiser drove by, certain that law enforcement stood ready to wrongly target him again. He sank into depression.

Then he moved to Sacramento. While the fallout of five years behind bars in Cell 13 of the state penitentiary for a murder someone else committed is lasting, Wilhoit, 48, has found a calling. He's changing the world "a little, bitty corner at a time." That might seem almost fanciful, so go ahead, check it out sometime if you don't believe it. Or even if you do.

Greg makes the rounds these days, telling his story to law school classes, churches, civic organizations -- to almost anyone willing to listen.

Greg was featured in John Grisham's book, "The Innocent Man" (Grisham's first non-fiction book).