Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Still Time to Act: North Carolina Racial Justice Act - South Carolina Updates

Please go to the SCADP website, here and in the article named "Take Action," on the top of the page - click on each of the three links to see how you can help.

The NC Racial Justice Act is the most urgent action (for the Carolinas) right now; they may vote on it today. The Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Prevention Act has already passed the U.S. Senate and will go to conference committee in September. (The problem is that - apparently in an effort to kill this good and necessary legislation - a death penalty provision has been attached to it. The death penalty provision must be removed in conference committee.)

Several abolitionists from South Carolina expect to go to Savannah for one or more of the Troy Davis canvassing weekends - Anna is in Charleston - Kate is in Columbia. If you can go, please contact Anna or Kate:,

Also, Amnesty International is hoping to take a bus to Washington, DC on September 26 for a rally in support of Troy. There may be the possibility of a bus from several areas. Contacts in South Carolina would like to know if you would be able to go.

(Update above slightly paraphrased from Anna - find out more here and here)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

NCADP - North Carolina wants national help today!

Find general links to NCADP shown in banner image: GO here

Dear Abolitionists,

NCADP's Affiliates in North Carolina have asked for our assistance in reaching out to you to ask you take a few minutes today to help them pass the NC Racial Justice Act, a bill that would provide a remedy for death sentences that are proven to be the product of racial bias. The NC Senate will vote to concur on the Racial Justice Act TODAY - Tuesday, July 28, 2009.

Please call and email the below Senators... or all three! Regardless of whether you support or oppose the death penalty-we can all agree that race should play no role in deciding who lives and who dies. Today this effort is about building the momentum and support with lots of calls. Please simply give your name and ask that they "vote to concur on RJA (S461) with no amendments or delays."


Charlie Alberson (D) (919) 733-5705
Marc Basnight (D) (919) 733-6854
Don Davis(D) (919) 733-5621
Steve Goss (D) (919) 733-5742
David Hoyle (D) (919) 733-5734
Tony Rand (D) (919) 733-9892
John Snow (D) (919) 733-5875
A.B. Swindell (919) 715-3030

Thank you for taking this important action immediately.

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

Monday, July 27, 2009

Senator Kennedy Raises Concerns About Expansion of Federal Death Penalty

In response to an amendment to the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act that would add the death penalty as a punishment for certain offenses under the Act, Senator Edward Kennedy (MA) entered a statement into the Congressional Record highlighting some of the risks of the death penalty. An excerpt of his statement appears below:

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, Senator SESSIONS has introduced an amendment that would create two new death penalty eligible offenses for crimes under the Matthew Shepard Act. I stand firmly in opposition to any new legislation that would radically expand the use of the death penalty, and I urge my colleagues in the Senate to oppose the Sessions amendment because it adds another new death penalty to the Federal Criminal Code. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the 1970s, the Death Penalty Information Center has reported that 135 people have been released from death row in the United States because of innocence—approximately one exoneration for every nine executions.

Some have attempted to argue that the large number of death row exonerations demonstrates that the system is working. Yet in many cases, fatal mistakes were avoided only because of discoveries made by students or journalists, not the courts.
In the last 6 months, there have already been five exonerations in death penalty cases in four different States. Ronald Kitchen was freed from prison in Illinois after the State dismissed all charges against him on July 7. He had spent 13 years on death row and a total of 21 years in prison. Herman Lindsey was freed from Florida’s death row on July 9 after the State supreme court unanimously ruled for his acquittal from a 2006 conviction. As the court said: [T]he State failed to produce any evidence in this case placing Lindsey at the scene of the crime at the time of the murder. . . . Indeed, we find that the evidence here is equally consistent with a reasonable hypothesis of innocence. There have also been three other exonerations of death row prisoners, including Nathson Fields in Illinois, Paul
House in Tennessee, and Daniel Moore in Alabama. This high number of exonerations has
led many observers, both liberal and conservative, to express concern about the fairness of the death penalty’s administration.

As former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has stated ‘‘if statistics are any indication, the system may well be allowing some innocent defendants to be executed.’’

How can we continue to expand a system that likely leads to the execution of innocent defendants? The U.S. Government should not be in the business of taking the lives of innocent Americans. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg once said that
the deliberate institutionalized taking of human life by the state is the greatest
degradation of the human personality imaginable. We must not expand this flawed system by accepting Senator SESSIONS’ broad amendment.

(Congressional Record, Senate, at S7683-84, July 20, 2009) (statement of Senator Kennedy). See Innocence and Recent Legislation.

Article taken from the DPIC

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Death penalty is being phased out

There have been 35 people executed in the United States this year, the most recent being Daytonian Marvallous Keene, who died by lethal injection Tuesday, July 21, for the 1992 Christmas season killings of five people here.

In Western Europe, though, there hasn’t been an execution since 1977, according to Franklin Zimring in his 2003 book “The Contradictions of American Capital Punishment.”

While a public debate rages in America over whether capital punishment deters crime, there’s a debate within academic circles over why we stand alone among modern Western civilizations in continuing to execute.

Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias Heck Jr., who has prosecuted several capital murder cases, said studies saying the death penalty deters crime seem to be balanced by just as many saying the opposite.

“It’s a really difficult question because we cannot know what’s in a perpetrator’s mind just before he steals something, or robs a bank or shoots somebody,” Heck said.

Heck said he knows that some criminals shy away from using guns in crimes because they know being convicted of using a gun automatically adds a few years to a prison sentence. “But whether you can take the logical step that the death penalty is a deterrent, that’s really hard to say,” he said.

So why do Americans continue to execute in the face of such ambiguity?

Zimring theorized that the persistence of capital punishment is related to the belief developed through the history of certain parts of the country that the community has the right to exact justice.

Zimring points out that the states that have carried out the most executions since 1976 tend to be the same states in the South and Southwest where lynchings were most common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Researcher David Garland offers a different theory in his 2005 article “Capital Punishment and American Culture” in the journal Punishment and Society.

Garland believes the United States is following the same path as Western Europe when it comes to capital punishment; we’re just a step or two behind.

Garland said as societies modernize they tend to follow a single pattern. First the range of offenses possibly leading to execution reduces. Next execution by torture disappears followed by the disappearance of public executions and the development of swift, painless forms of death.

Eventually a few people begin speaking out publicly against the death penalty, and public sentiment against the practice grows.

In the next phase, legal safeguards against inappropriate execution grow. What followed in Europe in the latter 20th century were reductions in the use of capital punishment followed by legal abolition.

The United States would seem to be in the latter stages of Garland’s progression. The Death Penalty Information Center says only about 65 percent of the public currently supports capital punishment, and legal safeguards now mean most people sentenced to death spend years on death row while automatic appeals in their cases play out.

A Step Back is planned as a recurring theme for this column in which issues in the news will be approached from a variety of social science perspectives. If you have a subject you’d like to see examined through the lens of history, psychology, anthropology, genetics, political science, communication theory or some other discipline, let me know. Also I welcome input from social scientists, ethicists, scholars and others with their own takes on the news.

By James Cummings, Staff Writer, Dayton Daily News

Friday, July 24, 2009

Limiting DNA Testing and Denying Justice to Victims

By Lisa Rea - posted in the Criminal Justice blog of
Lisa is also a board member of the Journey of Hope

On June 18th, the United States Supreme Court ruled by a 5-to-4 decision that prisoners have no constitutional right to DNA testing that might prove their innocence if they have been wrongfully convicted. That decision is one that will hurt crime victims in the U.S.

The five-justice majority found that this was a state issue instead of a federal one. In essence, state legislatures were doing enough already to remedy the problem of wrongful convictions. The opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. for the majority, said that to vote in favor of giving such rights to inmates would “short circuit what looks to be a prompt and considered legislative response.” It’s hard to agree with Chief Justice Roberts when 240 prisoners to date in the U.S. have been exonerated because of the use of DNA testing. Often the exoneration of these inmates has been due to the hard work of organizations like the Innocence Project and other organizations across the country. Without the use of DNA testing it is hard to think how these innocent prisoners would ever have seen the light of day.

But what concerns me as well is the number of crime victims who have been shafted yet again by the criminal justice system in the U.S. They once thought their case was solved only to find years later, sometimes two decades later, that the wrong man was convicted and sentenced. What a blow! According to the Innocence Project, out of the 240 exoneration cases, some 103 of those cases also identified the actual perpetrator through that same testing. DNA testing frees the innocent and catches real perpetrators. As a restorative justice advocate my question is : What on earth are we waiting for?

The argument against “constitutionalizing’ this area, as Chief Justice Roberts called it, is assuming that all state legislatures in the U.S. will do the right thing. My understanding, and my experience with this subject, is that there is progress in the area of righting these atrocious wrongs in these criminal cases when some advocacy organization, like the Innocence Project, or an interested legislator takes up the cause to attempt to lower the number of wrongful convictions in their state. I’d say it’s not a high priority these days in any state.

In California in 2006, there was a package of bills to address wrongful convictions as proposed by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. I wrote a letter of support for these bills on behalf of The Justice & Reconciliation Project, an organization representing crime victims in support of restorative justice. Those bills were passed by the Legislature and landed on the governor’s desk in 2006 and 2007. Both times the bill package was vetoed. Not exactly swift justice. Do states need a little push to do the right thing here? Yes. More states are looking at the problem of wrongful convictions but because of this Supreme Court ruling the most important weapon to fight these miscarriages of justice has been denied.

When I became more aware of wrongful convictions I was urged to read a book called "Surviving Justice, America’s Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated" - edited by Lola Vollen and Dave Eggers. If you think that wrongful convictions only happen to those who are of the criminal ilk you would be wrong. After reading this well researched book you realize that “by the grace of God go I.” No one is immune from the common occurrence of a witness misidentifying an innocent man or woman after a crime has been committed. That is the number one reason why innocents are behind bars for crimes they did not commit: faulty witness identification.

But for God’s sake, if we know we have hundreds or thousands of innocents behind bars must we not do everything in our power to set them free if we live in a civilized society? Absolutely. This court ruling will now make this work harder and slower. As I said earlier, crime victims are hurt - not helped - by this ruling. The challenge on top of this urgent need to free those who are wrongfully convicted is to remember then that someone who is actually guilty of that crime is free at large. Ask a crime victim how they would view that fact. Having worked in the restorative justice field for 15 years I can tell you that crime victims want the system to get it right. There can be no restoration of crime victims, nor can there be offender accountability - two key elements of restorative justice, if the real perpetrator is not caught.

Lastly, I am sharing this video of a man I met in Sacramento a few years ago. His name is Herman Atkins. He is an exoneree freed in 2000 due to DNA testing after serving over 11 years in prison for rape he did commit.

I fear in America we have just exposed the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more we can do to right these wrongs: for the innocent in prison and the crime victims who still seek justice.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nelson Mandela:
Leaving distress, hatred behind

Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa from May 1994 to June 1999 and Nobel laureate, celebrated his 91st birthday on July 18, last Saturday. A special declaration was issued by leaders or foreign ministers of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) last week to endorse his birthday of July 18 as the Nelson Mandela International Day.

Then, people may ask: Why does Nelson Mandela still have an unfading charisma and remained very popular after he had disappeared from the political arena for a full decade?

His charisma derives from his legendary experiences and from his firm belief and broadmindedness. Forgiveness oversteps the divisions of races, party origins and the rules of the human nature, extricating many South Africans from the shackles of hatred and injustice. For the past dozen years or so, the black and white people have co-exited peacefully in South Africa, its economy made historical substantial headway with a gaining momentum, and its international status is rising steadily.

Benevolence and forgiveness pose the key to a happy future for South Africa, whereas hatred can only make it degraded into an orgy of continuing degeneration. This is precisely the great spiritual value or assets Nelson Mandela has left for South Africa and is also an unusual and the most profound, first-hand experience.

Reviewing his life-long, rich personal experiences, racial segregations turned young Nelson Mandela into a “fearless youth”, who emphasized that “Equality is for everybody” and vowed to obtain equality for all those oppressed. For this reason, he plunged himself into the cause of national liberation in the name of a young freedom fighter, and he did indeed become the symbol of the struggle for national liberation in South Africa.

When he turned 26 in 1943, Nelson Mandela co-established the ANC Youth League to mobilize mass protest against racial discrimination in a hope of winning the black people’s rights through peaceful means. Nevertheless, a dozen years of strikes and protests and making agitated street speeches did not alter stark reality in his country. In 1961, Mandela turned to armed resistance and became leader of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (or the Spear of the Nation), and secretly carried out activities against the white people.

Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to five years of imprisonment with hard labor and, two years later, he was given a life term for the so-called crimes of sabotage. He spent most of his 27 years in the Robben Island prison, where he had endured the dehumanizing hardships in the island jail, located 12 km from Cape Town, which failed to break his heroism or spirit. After Mandela left Robben Island, the jail where he had stayed or served his terms remained as a towering testament to “the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom and of democracy over oppression.

The oppressed and the oppressors are needed to be liberated likewise and racists are also robbed of their humanity, Mandela acknowledged in his memoir, and added that racist prison officers were also prisoners. While in prison, Mandela lost his freedom of movement but achieved his ideological emancipation. This great mental transfer of Mandela’s has created the image of a new South Africa in the ensuing years and he himself became a world-renowned great man.

Nelson Mandela was released from prison on February 11, 1990, which was a significant milestone in the history of South Africa to shift to democracy. Afterwards, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up in South Africa in term of the Promotion of Nation Unity and Reconciliation Act, 1995, so as to urge those who committed crimes to ask for forgiveness and tell the truth about what they did toward the black people. With the influence of Mandela, black South Africans who had attained their freedom put down their arms pointing to the white people, whereas white South Africans, who have lost their privileges, lowered their proud heads.

When he walked out through the gate of Victor Verster Prison leading to freedom on February 11, 1990, said Mandela, it was become clear to him that he would have remained in prison if he had failed to leave behind distress and hatred.

By People’s Daily Online and contributed by PD reporter Li Feng

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ask Congress to Remove the Death Pen. Provision ...

Dear Abolitionists,

Today (7/20/09) the U.S. Senate passed the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, with an amendment making hate crimes punishable by death. Below please find the statement of the President of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, of which NCADP is an active member.

Please contact your members of congress (House and Senate) to urge them to remove the death penalty provision when it goes to conference.

You can reach the US Capitol switchboard at 202.224.3121 and ask for your Senator's or Representative's office. If you do not know who your two U.S. Senators or your Representative are, or for their direct office phone numbers and e-mail addresses, go here: here

AFTER YOU CALL, please forward this message to your friends, family, etc. and ask them to call, and then please also send an e-mail to each of your two Senators and your Representative.

Thank you for your immediate action.

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty


July 20, 2009

Contact: Maggie Kao (202) 466-2735

Death Penalty Amendment Threatens Vital Hate Crimes Prevention Act

Statement of Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

Washington, D.C. - The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) released the following statement on today's Senate passage of S. 909, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill (S. 1390).

"Today the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights applauds the Senate for passing the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. But, the victory is blighted with an unnecessary and poisonous death penalty amendment that is designed to kill this landmark legislation.

We urge Members of Congress to recognize this egregious effort to dismantle the Hate Crimes Prevention Act for what it is, and remove the death penalty amendment from the bill when it goes to conference.

The Leadership Conference - along with the sponsors of the bill and the more than 300 civil rights, human rights, religious, and law enforcement organizations that support the strengthening of hate crimes legislation - strongly opposed this amendment.

The need for hate crimes legislation has become apparent as we hear stories about individuals like Stephen Tyrone Johns of Washington, D.C., Sean Kennedy of South Carolina, Angie Zapata of Colorado, Luis Ramirez of Pennsylvania, and Matthew Shepard of Wyoming, and others who have found themselves targeted because of the color of their skin, their national origin, their religion, their gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.

In an increasingly diverse America, no civil right is more vital to the American Democracy than the government's role in protecting individuals from acts of violence because of who they are."

# # #

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) is the nation's oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition. For more information on LCCR and its over 200 member organizations, visit here

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Five Exonerations So Far in 2009 Demonstrate Risks of Death Penalty

The risk that innocent people could be executed remains high, as illustrated by the two most recent exonerations from death row. Ronald Kitchen was freed from prison Illinois after the state dismissed all charges against him on July 7. He had spent 13 years on death row and a total of 21 years in prison. Governor George Ryan had commuted his sentence to life in 2003, along with all other death row inmates. Kitchen's original conviction was derived largely from a coerced confession, having been subjected to a torturous interrogation under the supervision of the notorious police Commander Jon Burge. Herman Lindsey was freed from Florida's death row on July 9 after the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled for his acquittal. The court noted: "[T]he State failed to produce any evidence in this case placing Lindsey at the scene of the crime at the time of the murder. . . .Indeed, we find that the evidence here is equally consistent with a reasonable hypothesis of innocence." Lindsey was convicted in 2006, clearly indicating that wrongful convictions continue to occur in capital cases.

READ MORE on this and latest "scoop" at Death Penalty Information Center (Find this and key other links lower right - need to give them a few moments to appear.)

North Carolina Op Ed: "Beyond Fixing" (Put it in mothballs! )

Op Ed from Raleigh, NC's New & Observer

Beyond fixing----An effort to purge racial bias from death penalty decisions is well-intentioned, but the death penalty itself is flawed.

If a mere law enacted by the General Assembly and signed by the governor could guarantee racial justice in North Carolina, then people of good will already would have taken care of that important piece of business. Alas, if it were only so simple. But it's not hard to understand why now, many of those same people of good will have rallied behind a bill ambitiously titled the "North Carolina Racial Justice Act."

The bill, which cleared the state House last week after an impassioned debate, actually focuses on one perceived aspect of racially driven mistreatment. It is intended to shield criminal defendants from discrimination in the justice system that could result in an unfair sentence of death -- unfair in that it was influenced by racial prejudice.

On its face, this is a proposition with much to recommend it. Yet the bill, in inviting statistical evidence of discrimination that is not necessarily linked to the particulars of a case at hand, stumbles in its attempt to reach a worthy goal.

Patterns of crime and punishment may show that social ills place an extraordinarily heavy burden on minority groups. Racial bias surely can be, has been, part of that unfortunate picture. But as specific cases play out in the courtroom, those patterns are of limited usefulness in determining either guilt or appropriate sentences.

The Racial Justice Act has been spearheaded by Democratic Rep. Larry Womble of Winston-Salem, who is African-American, and has received vigorous support from the state chapter of the NAACP. Here's a clue as to why: Of the 163 people on Death Row as of April 13, the latest total on the prison system's Web site, there were 60 white men, two white women, 87 black men and one black woman. That's in a state where the African-American population is about 22 %.

To detect a tilt?

It's reasonable to wonder if the disproportionate number of condemned inmates who are black reflects a lingering bias in the justice system. It's reasonable to declare, as the Racial Justice Act does, that no one "shall be subject to or given a sentence of death or shall be executed pursuant to any judgment that was sought or obtained on the basis of race."

How, though, to determine whether such a hideous outcome was in the offing? The proposed act allows for the use of statistical evidence that the scales have tilted against defendants of a certain race in a certain jurisdiction. But those statistics can lead the courts into a confusing and ambiguous minefield. For example, what if white defendants received most of the death sentences in a county, as has happened? Would that suggest the need to send more black murderers to death row?

The act's supporters point to what they say is a finding that the killers of white people in North Carolina are more likely to be sentenced to die than the killers of black people. However, if that is true, there are plausible explanations other than that prosecutors, judges or juries are biased. And, in fact, interracial killings are the exception, not the rule. So to correct the imbalance, it could well be that more black killers of black victims would have to be condemned. That surely isn't what Womble and his allies wish.

Is the justice system that condemns a small fraction of murderers reliably accurate and consistently fair in its findings? Sadly, no. The roster of people exonerated after having been convicted of killing someone tells that tale. African-Americans, for a host of regrettable reasons, are too often caught up in the wheels of the court system, and the chance that they will pay a price for flaws in that system is high.

System errors

Those flaws have included instances of trial attorneys unprepared to handle the demands of a capital case and prosecutors who wrongfully withheld evidence favorable to the defense. Any defendant who can show that his counsel was ineffective or that the prosecution cheated is entitled to relief. Statistics involving alleged racial bias in other cases would tend to be beside the point.

Still, it requires a leap of faith to assume that every defendant wrongfully convicted or unfairly sentenced will manage to persuade the courts to correct the mistake. Couple the possibility of a horrible miscarriage of justice with the costs and inefficiencies of capital punishment, with its years of appeals, and there is a strong argument for simply letting North Carolina's death penalty fade into disuse.

Clearly there is no reason to follow the state Senate's lead. In passing a version of the Racial Justice Act, senators also moved to resume executions, which have been on hold for the last couple of years because of court challenges. The act's House champions know better than to swallow that kind of poison pill.

No one should quarrel with the concept of purging any residual racial bias from the process of determining which murderers are sentenced to death. But rather than continuing to tinker with death's machinery, as a Supreme Court justice once described the grim effort of trying to fix the unfixable, better to put it in mothballs.

(source: Editorial, News & Observer)

Friday, July 17, 2009

North Carolina: Now Comes the Hard Part

Before this week, we have never asked you to send quite so many emails to your legislators.

But this is a big week.

Lives are at stake. Reducing the injustice and unfairness of our death penalty system is at stake.

Early next week the NC Senate will likely take up the revised version of the NC Racial Justice Act passed by the NC House this week. Some powerful Democratic Senators seem to be intent on killing, weakening or stalling this bill.

Please take a moment and visit the following link to send a message to your senator and the Senate leadership urging their support for this historic bill:


Thank you.


Amanda, Emilie, Kristen, Steve and everyone at PFADP


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

Thursday, July 16, 2009

North Carolina: Let Us Rejoice and Give Thanks!

Yesterday the NC Racial Justice Act passed the House by a vote of 61-54 on its third reading, which was the final vote in the House (we hope).

No matter what, it's a big victory.

The bill now goes back to a potentially hostile NC Senate, most likely next week.

Please take a moment and send a message of thanks to the legislators who voted for the Racial Justice Act.

If you have done this before you know it only takes two clicks of your mouse and you're done! Or you could write your own message.

Click here

In Peace,

Amanda, Emilie, Kristen, Steve, and the team at PFADP

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

TWO STAYS! Paul Powell in VA (7/14) and Kenneth Mosely in TX

Hello all,

Paul Powell in VA (7/14) and Kenneth Mosely in TX (7/16) have both
received stays....


Abraham J. Bonowitz

Director of Affiliate Support

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

1705 DeSales St., NW Fifth Floor

Washington, DC 20036

202-331-4090 - Office

202-331-4099 - Fax

561-371-5204 - Mobile


Press release by the Death Penalty Information Center
July 13th, 2009
CONTACT: Corinne Farrell
Communications Director
(202) 289-2275,

WASHINGTON, DC – All charges were dismissed against Ronald Kitchen and he was released from prison in Illinois after spending almost 13 years on death row for murders prosecutors now concede cannot be proven. A few days later, Herman Lindsey was released from Florida’s death row after the state’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously that his case lacked sufficient evidence of guilt. Five people have now been exonerated from death row in 2009, bringing the total number of people exonerated since 1973 to 135. Fifty-one of these exonerations have occurred since the start of 2000.

On July 7, 2009, Ronald Kitchen was released from prison as prosecutors dropped all charges against him and his co-defendant, citing insufficient evidence to retry them for five murders that occurred in 1988. "It really hasn't hit me yet," said Kitchen, upon leaving the courts building after serving more than two decades in prison for the murders. "It's, like, surreal.”

The Illinois attorney general’s office conducted DNA tests that were unavailable at the time of the murder and found nothing incriminating against either Kitchen or his co-defendant, Marvin Reeves. Kitchen’s case and about 20 others were turned over to the attorney general’s office for review by Judge Paul Biebel after allegations of torture arose. After re-investigating the court record and the evidence, the office concluded that the evidence was too weak to continue. Deputy Chief of Staff for Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, Cara Smith, said, "We conducted a very thorough and independent investigation ... and determined that we could not sustain our burden of proof.”

Kitchen’s case is yet another exoneration linked to disgraced former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge. Kitchen had claimed that detectives under Burge’s command coerced him into confessing to the murders through torture, including hitting him in the head with a telephone, punching him in the face, striking him in the groin, and kicking him. Years after Kitchen’s conviction, Police Commander Burge was fired after the Police Department Review Board ruled that he had used torture. Burge currently awaits trial on charges of obstruction of justice and perjury in relation to a civil suit regarding the torture allegations against him.

Kitchen is the 134th person to be exonerated from death row and the 20th in Illinois since 1973. “The five exonerations this year demonstrate that innocent people still face a significant danger of execution in this country,” said Richard Dieter, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “The risks posed by the death penalty are far too high to allow this process to continue. Such a high error rate would not be tolerated in any other area of society where human lives are at stake.”

In the second case, the Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously on July 9, 2009, that Herman Lindsey be acquitted and freed from death row, holding that there was insufficient evidence to convict him. Lindsey had been convicted in 2006 of a murder that had occurred 12 years earlier. The court said that “the state failed to produce any evidence in this case placing Lindsey at the scene of the crime at the time of the murder,” and that the evidence presented was “equally consistent with a reasonable hypothesis of innocence.”

According to DPIC’s Innocence List, Lindsey is the 135th person to be exonerated from death row since the death penalty was reinstated and the fifth person exonerated from death row in 2009. Lindsey is the 23rd exoneration in Florida -- the state that leads the country in death row exonerations.

DPIC’s Innocence List consists of former death row inmates who have been acquitted of all charges related to the crime that placed them on death row; had all charges dismissed by the prosecution; or been granted a complete pardon based on evidence of innocence.

To arrange an interview with DPIC’s Executive Director, Richard Dieter, or for more information about the Innocence List, please contact Corinne Farrell at (202) 289-2275 or

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Sentenced To Death Because Of Where You Live: The Death Penalty’s Geographic Bias

Taken from the blog of the ACLU, posted by John Holdridge, Director, Capital Punishment Project

Americans have become increasingly troubled by the profound flaws in our capital punishment system, including its astonishing error rate and its racial and socioeconomic biases. They are less aware of its disturbing geographical biases.

The United States does not practice capital punishment. Isolated parts of it do.

The death penalty is primarily a southern institution, as Death Penalty Information Center statistics establish. The State of Texas alone has accounted for over 37 percent of all executions in the U.S. since 1977, which marked the beginning of the nation’s modern death penalty era. Of the 32 executions carried out so far this year, Texas is responsible for half of them.

Southern states accounted for 95 percent of the executions in 2008 (Texas alone accounted for about 50 percent). In 2007 (the last year for which statistics are available), juries returned 115 death sentences throughout the nation and, of these, over 60 percent were in the South.

However, geographic bias does not exist only from region to region and from state to state. There are substantial geographic biases within states themselves. A 2002 study found that more than two-thirds of American counties have never imposed the death penalty since 1977. Only 3 percent (92 out of 3,066) of the nation’s counties account for 50 percent of its death sentences in that 32 year period.

In Texas, over 33 percent of the prisoners on the state’s death row today come from one county — Harris County, where Houston is located. Harris County has rightly been called the capital of capital punishment. An Amnesty International publication from 2007 reported that if Harris County were a state, it would rank second behind Texas in total number of executions since 1977.

Like virtually every other death penalty state, California, whose death row is the largest in the nation with a staggering 678 condemned inmates, suffers from similar geographic disparities. To view an interactive map demonstrating these disparities, click here.

The overwhelming geographical bias of our capital punishment system is further evidence that the system is arbitrary and capricious — and fundamentally unfair. It is one more reason for us to join the rest of the civilized world and repeal our capital punishment statutes.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Ronald Kitchen and Marvin Reeves finally free after decades of wrongful inprisonment


The Exoneration of Ronald Kitchen

On Tuesday, July 07, 2009, 43-year-old Ronald Kitchen, who confessed under extreme physical duress to a taking part in five murders 21 years ago, was exonerated and freed from prison. The confession was extracted by Detective Michael Kill, who worked under Commander Jon Burge. Kitchen spent thirteen of his 21 years behind bars on death row.

Of 224 men and women sentenced to death under the current Illinois death penalty law, which was enacted in 1977, 20 have now been exonerated and released—an error rate of nearly 9 percent.

Kitchen was represented by Thomas F. Geraghty amd Carolyn E. Frazier of Northwestern Law School's Bluhm Legal Clinic and Mark Oates and Angela Vigil of Baker & McKenzie. Reeves was represented by Michael J. Gill and David D. Pope of Mayer Brown.

In this video, Ronald and his lawyers from Northwestern Law School talk about his case.

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The Chicago Public Radio reports that Kitchen and his co-defendent Marvin Reeves will ask the court for certificates declaring them innocent. A spokewoman for the Illinois Attorney General's office says they'll likely support that request.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

NORTH CAROLINA : Action Today!

July 7, 2009
Racial Justice Act Vote in NC House

The NC Racial Justice Act is moving out of the Appropriations Committee and will likely be voted on soon in the NC House.

Please Contact Your State Representative! Use the letter below to contact your state representative and ask them to support the NC Racial Justice Act! It is important that you change the subject line and add your own personal message to make your email more effective.Your email will only reach your representative if you enter your full nine-digit zip code. You can find this by clicking here

Monday, July 06, 2009

Death penalty 'exonerations'

Recently, I made another reference to the number of Death Row inmates across the country who have been spared execution because of exonerations of one form or another. The Death Penalty Information Center keeps this count -- it is presently 133 -- and it has been verified elsewhere in the mainstream press. When I first started using the numbers from DPIC, I conducted Sun archive and Internet searches to independently check the exonerations, and found a large sampling of them to be accurate.

But, at the same time, I think "exonerations" should only be used when a person is convicted but later found to be innocent of the murder that resulted in a sentence of death. That is the popular meaning of "exoneration," and yet the DPIC uses it to cover those whose convictions have been overturned because of legal flaws.

A reader of my column wrote to challenge my acceptance of the word "exoneration" as shorthand for all those who have been removed for various reasons from Death Row. The reader cited a report of a victims' rights organization, the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which challenged the DPIC numbers and definition of "exonerated."

Here is the reply to questions about the accuracy of the exonerations list from Richard Dieter, DPIC director.

The Death Penalty Information Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to research and education on the death penalty in the U.S.  We do not have a position on the morality or rightness of the death penalty per se, though a number of our reports focus on the problems in capital punishment and hence have been critical of the way it is applied.

With respect to your question about our list of exonerated individuals, we use very strict and objective criteria for inclusion of cases on this list.  Basically, the list is determined by the decisions of courts and prosecutor offices, not by our subjective judgment.  As we state in a number of places on our Web site and in our reports, the criteria for inclusion on the list is:

Defendants must have been convicted, sentenced to death and subsequently either-
a) their conviction was overturned AND
i) they were acquitted at re-trial or
ii) all charges were dropped
b) they were given an absolute pardon by the governor based on new evidence of innocence.

The list includes cases where the release occurred in 1973 or later, which was the time that states resumed sentencing people to death after the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down the death penalty.  The list originated from a request from Congress asking us to identify the risks that innocent people might be executed.  The original list that we prepared was published as a Staff Report of the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights.  The list has been favorably referred to by Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts, as well as by many public officials around the country.

We believe the term "exonerated" is entirely appropriate to refer to the individuals on this list, which now numbers 133 individuals.  Exonerate means to clear, as of an accusation, and seems to come from the Latin "ex" and "onus" meaning to unburden.  That is precisely what has occurred in these cases.  The defendants were convicted, given a burden of guilt, and then that burden was lifted when they were acquitted at a re-trial or the prosecution dropped all charges after the conviction was reversed.  These are not individuals who received a lesser sentence or who remained guilty of a lesser charge related to the same set of circumstances.  All guilt was lifted by the same system that had imposed it in the first place.  Our justice system is the only objective source for making such a determination.

This notion of innocence, that an individual is innocent unless proven guilty, is a bedrock principle of our constitution and our societal protection against abusive state power.  One does not lose the status of innocence merely because a prosecutor or other individuals retain a suspicion of guilt.  Of course, it is true that this list makes no god-like determination of knowing exactly what happened in the original crime. Such perfect knowledge of past events is impossible, either to absolutely prove that a person did or did not do an act.  We do not try to make a subjective judgment of what we think happened in the crime.  We are merely reporting that in a great many cases the justice system convicted an individual and sentenced them to death,
but when the process that arrived at that conclusion was reviewed, the conviction and sentence were thrown out.  The individual,
who often came close to execution, could not even be convicted of a traffic violation.  Surely, that should be a cause of concern in applying the death penalty.

Maybe "exoneration" isn't the most accurate word here. But Dieter has a point -- if a conviction was wrongly achieved,
our system says that conviction is thrown out and the the justice system returns to square one for the accused. However you shake this, at least 133 people
were put on Death Row and slated for execution who should not have been there. These were near-fatal mistakes, in the eyes of our system,
way too much imperfection in the area of criminal justice, above all, that requires perfection.
Taken from Dan Roderick's blog from

Saturday, July 04, 2009

July 4, 2009

Across America today, on Independence Day, there will be traditional fireworks, parades, summer fun for children in swimming pools and at ballgames, and a pervasive national outpouring of patriotism, reflected in both flag displays and the singing of the national anthem at countless events.

There are also almost 3,300 individuals who will not be any part of these festivities; they are mostly forgotten, despised and reviled....
they are America's condemned.

They sit on death rows in 34 states, as well as in a military prison in Kansas and a fedeal facility in Indiana. Most are overwhelmingly guilty of vile, heinous, outrageous and terrible crimes. Many are mentally ill, even profoundly mentally ill, and a good number are innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted. Collectively, they are, in part, responsible for a great deal of anger, hurt, pain and rage in our society.

They face death by firing squad, hanging, electrocution, cyanide gas, and lethal injection (there are more methods of legitimate state-sanctioned execution in the the USA than in any other country in the world).

As this nation is trying to emerge from the worst global financial crisis in 70 years, it remains in desperate need of trying to find, uphold and defend its moral soul. We are a long way from accomplishing this important national task.

Most of America's political and judicial leaders, both male and female, in both major parties, remain committed to upholding the ideology and practice of human extermination. As long as any nation in the world, inclduing the USA, retain and practice the barbarism of killing people in the name of the law, they can never be free. If people support, or are indifferent to the liquidataion of condemned individuals, how can we be surprised that other horrors, such as torture, hate crimes, and crimes against women, continue at such an alarming pace.

To be sure, some advances in the abolition of the US death penalty have been achieved in the last decade: America has stopped executing its juvenile and mentally retarded offenders; New Jersey and New Mexico have legislatively ended the death penalty, and other states have, in recent years, come close to doing the same. Over 130 innocent people have been released from America's death rows to date, and more will emerge to the free world in the years ahead.

But this "progress" has come at a frustratingly, agonizinly slow pace. Of the 1168 individuals put to death in America since executions resumed in 1977, 736 have occurred since 1998, including 200 just in Texas alone since Rick Perry became governor in 2001. There is no immediate end in sight to this horror.

There will undoubtedly be the traditional praise and self-congratulatory editorials and op-eds in our newspapers today, from coast to coast, from our major cities to our small communities, reminding us of how lucky we are to live in such a great nation. And in many ways, that sentiment is correct.

But it is a fallacy to believe that assessment when considering what is happening in this country regarding the issue of the death penalty. It is time to face the truth, admit national pain, and come to grips with the fact that on this issue, 233 years after the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed (and 402 years after the British first settled here), we are a national disgrace and failure. We remain wedded to the love of violence, and to the preposterous idea that some people in our society (and even around the world), can be classified as "lesser" or "other" humans, 'deserving' to be stripped of their human dignity, caged like animals for years, physically and psychologically tortured and terrorized, and then ultimately liquidated in the name of the law.

On this day, when so much celebrating in America will occur, I hope and trust that people will take a hard look at the sobering realities of this nation and its nightmare of the death penalty. Now is the time for all people of conscience, everywhere, to re-dedicate themselves with renewed fervor to end this terrible scourge, so that America may join the ranks of most nations in the world that have long since recognized the links between advancing human progress with ending the death penalty.

When the US does abolish the death penalty, it will then, and only then, have reasons to be proud and celebrate itself.

Rick Halperin
Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and Amnesty International USA

What to the Prisoner is Your Fourth of July?

To commemorate the independence of the United States of America, Texas prison kitchens are fired up earlier than usual. The traditional Fourth of July meals are prepared by unpaid prisoners (can you say slaves?) whose only incentive for the extra work is leftover mashed potatoes and an extra oven-barbecued soybean patty, if they are lucky.

By afternoon, Texas prisons are bustling with activities. But today the activity is not the thousands of slaves in the cotton fields. No, the hoe squads, which are normally sweating in the fields while being watched by their armed overseers on horseback, are resting today.

Instead, volleyball nets are brought out and tournaments are organized around the basketball and handball courts. The big men work up a sweat on the weight pile, encouraged at times by female prison guards proudly displaying American flag patches on the shoulder of their confederate-colored uniforms.

The American flag itself is flown at high mast along side the Texas flag for all to see. Even the men living in super max segregation, isolation, and sensory deprivation—the death row population who is not privy to the day’s celebration--can climb up to the small slit of a window high in the back wall of their individual cage and watch those flags rip in the wind.

Despite the irony, not enough of Texas’ 150,000 slaves seem to question the purpose of a celebration of independence in a prison.

Prisoners were obviously not a consideration when the Declaration of Independence was written.

In fact, the reality is that prisons are neocolonial concentration slave camps. For the plantation to run smoothly, the master is dependent on the docility and ignorance of the inmates/slaves.

In Texas prisons, where the population is disproportionally Black and Latino, rehabilitation and educational programs are rare to nonexistent. The only thing a prisoner is guaranteed to learn how to be a better criminal, guaranteeing their return to enslavement, again and again.

For most prisoners, the July 4th holiday signifies a moment of relief, a day to eat, drink and be merry.

For the 400 Texas death row prisoners, the Fourth of July is simply a day closer to our impending execution.

God Bless America?

By Howard Guidry, innocent death row prison activist, organizer, poet and Panther
July 1, 2006

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The human face of the death penalty

In a series of alarmingly frank portraits and accompanying audio interviews, British portraitist Claire Phillips reveals the painful and inflexible sharp end of the U.S. penal system, littered by broken souls who have all known extreme violence.

Tattooed inmates make up only a few of the portraits on show, which also includes those on the sidelines: senators, campaigners, jurors. The recorded interviews often reveal much more than the artworks themselves. Marietta Jaeger-Lane, for example, whose face is both kindly and steely at the same time, stares out from a calming grey ground. Only her voice tells us that her daughter, Susie, was snatched and killed a week later. Later still she became an anti-death row campaigner; once Susie's killer was captured and killed.

Don Cabana stares broodingly from a blood red canvas, an unsympathetic looking warder who has presided over two executions. Only in the audio do we find that he is horrified when an inmate refuses to absolve him; only in the audio does he tell the story of a chemist driven mad by the responsibility of mixing gas for the chamber.

By the end these disarming portraits and utterly contradictory audio together tell of America's complicated relationship with the death sentence and the mixed up, polar lives of those who inhabit the spooky corridors of death row: killers, relatives, lawyers, warders, all.

In case the video should not open when you're trying to watch it, please click here