Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Cost of Executions

Quitman County, Miss., population 10,500, raised taxes for three years and borrowed $150,000 to provide legal counsel to Robert Simon and Anthony Carr, sentenced to death for the 1990 murders of four family members. A death-penalty case "is almost like lightning striking," county administrator Butch Scipper told The Wall Street Journal in 2002. "It is catastrophic to a small rural county."

In 1995, Jasper County, Miss. spent three times more on one capital trial than it did on its public library system that year. When officials went to the county supervisors to get more money appropriated for capital prosecutions, the supervisors' solution was to raise property and car taxes. "It's going to be a fairly substantial increase," Board President John Sims said to the Jasper County News at the time. "I hope the taxpayers understand ..."

In the Magnolia State, as in many states across the nation, the counties often shoulder the cost of trials. Quitman County sued the state to pick up the cost of the Simon/Carr defense, but the state Supreme Court ruled against the county in 1999

Regardless of one's personal stance on the death penalty, one inescapable fact about dispensing "an eye for an eye" justice is that it is expensive. Just how expensive is an aspect of a report from the Death Penalty Information Center, "Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis."

Among the costs examined are the additional expenses added to trials when prosecutors seek the death penalty. The report juxtaposes those costs against the rarity of actually carrying out an execution. "For a single death penalty trial, the state may pay $1 million more than for a non-death penalty trial," the report states. "But only one in every three capital trials may result in a death sentence, so the true cost of that death sentence is $3 million. Further down the road, only one in ten of the death sentences handed down may result in an execution. Hence, the cost to the state to reach that one execution is $30 million."

For cash-strapped Mississippi, it's an expense the citizens can ill afford. Even with federal stimulus funds taking up some of the slack, the state's tax revenue has fallen every month for the past year, and Gov. Haley Barbour has slashed the budget for nearly every department. While Mississippi has not examined specific costs related to death penalty cases, other states have, providing guidance to estimate costs. Florida, for example, estimates each of their 68 executions since 1976 cost taxpayers $24 million; California, which has executed 13 convicts since 1976, estimates each conviction costs $250 million; and in Kansas, costs for death penalty trials are 16 times greater than non-death penalty trials ($508,000 versus $32,000). The estimated cost per conviction for its eight death-row inmates stands at $1.2 million each.

Mississippi has 60 people on death row. The inmates have been there 12 years, on average. Mack King has been there for 29 years; James Billiot for 27. Simon and Carr, the killer's that nearly broke Quitman County 19 years ago, are still there. Of the 10 inmates executed since 1976, the average length of time on death row was 13.4 years; Bobby Wilcher served 24 years and Earl Berry, 20 years.

Using a conservative calculation, the additional cost to try all 70 for capital crimes to achieve a death sentence ($300,000 each, from a 1993 North Carolina study) comes to $21 million. That number, though, does not include those tried for capital crimes and receiving lesser sentences, such as Carla Hughes, the Jackson schoolteacher tried earlier in October who received a life sentence. Using the report's "one in three" success rate for capital convictions, it is likely that Mississippi spent $63 million to achieve those 70 convictions. With only 10 individuals executed, however—one out of every seven—the taxpayer cost for those 10 deaths comes in at a whopping $441 million, or $44.1 million each.

The death penalty is also an inefficient crime-fighting tool. Included in the report is a survey of 500 randomly selected police chiefs from across the country. Asked to name the one area most important for reducing violent crime, only 1 percent of the chiefs listed the death penalty, with 57 percent saying it does little to deter violent crime. They also ranked it as the least efficient use of taxpayer funds.

"I'm not sure that the average criminal would consider the death penalty before they commit a crime," Jackson Police Chief Rebecca Coleman told the Jackson Free Press, admitting she had not reviewed the report. She did admit that the death penalty has an adverse economic impact, however. It's money she felt could be better spent elsewhere.

"I would look at more proactive means to serve as a deterrent to crime, as opposed to looking at it (reactively)"
she said.

Coleman would spend the funds in the juvenile justice system, breaking the back of the cradle-to-prison pipeline. "(I would put) programs in place to educate our kids to know the benefits of good behavior as opposed to behavior ... that ultimately would have them end up on death row," she said.
By Ronni Mott, Jackson Free Press

Thursday, October 22, 2009

CNN Anderson Cooper 360 on Todd Willingham's Trial

October 22, 2009 CNN Anderson Cooper 360: Randi Kaye Sits Down with Todd Willingham's Unethical Trial Attorney David Martin


A little meditation on forgiveness from Tagore!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

CALIFORNIA: How do executions make us safer?

PHOTO from LA Times October 2, 2009
Jeanne Woodford is the former director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the former warden of San Quentin State Prison.

Death row realism
Do executions make us safer?
By Jeanne Woodford

As the warden of San Quentin, I presided over four executions. After each one, someone on the staff would ask, "Is the world safer because of what we did tonight?"

We knew the answer: No.

I worked in corrections for 30 years, starting as a correctional officer and working my way up to warden at San Quentin and then on to the top job in the state -- director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. During those years, I came to believe that the death penalty should be replaced with life without the possibility of parole.

I didn't reach that conclusion because I'm soft on crime. My No. 1 concern is public safety. I want my children and grandchildren to have the safety and freedom to pursue their dreams. I know from firsthand experience that some people are dangerous and must be removed from society forever -- people such as Robert Lee Massie.

I presided over Massie's execution in 2001. He was first sentenced to death for the 1965 murder of a mother of two. But when executions were temporarily banned in 1972, his sentence was changed to one that would allow parole, and he was released in 1978. Months later, he killed a 61-year-old liquor store owner and was returned to death row.

For supporters of the death penalty, Massie is a poster child. Yet for me, he stands out among the executions I presided over as the strongest example of how empty and futile the act of execution is.

I remember that night clearly. It was March 27, 2001. I was the last person to talk to Massie before he died. After that, I brought the witnesses in. I looked at the clock to make sure it was after midnight. I got a signal from two members of my staff who were on the phone with the state Supreme Court and the U.S. attorney general's office to make sure there were no last-minute legal impediments to the execution. There were none, so I gave the order to proceed. It took several minutes for the lethal injections to take effect.

I did my job, but I don't believe it was the right thing to have done. We should have condemned Massie to permanent imprisonment -- that would have made the world safer. But on the night we executed him, when the question was asked, "Did this make the world safer?" the answer remained no. Massie needed to be kept away from society, but we did not need to kill him.

Why should we pay to keep him locked up for life? I hear that question constantly. Few people know the answer: It's cheaper -- much, much cheaper than execution.

I wish the public knew how much the death penalty affects their wallets. California spends an additional $117 million each year pursuing the execution of those on death row. Just housing inmates on death row costs an additional $90,000 per prisoner per year above what it would cost to house them with the general prison population.

A statewide, bipartisan commission recently concluded that we must spend $100 million more each year to fix the many problems with capital punishment in California. Total price tag: in excess of $200 million-a-year more than simply condemning people to life without the possibility of parole.

If we condemn the worst offenders, like Massie, to permanent imprisonment, resources now spent on the death penalty could be used to investigate unsolved homicides, modernize crime labs and expand effective violence prevention programs, especially in at-risk communities. The money also could be used to intervene in the lives of children at risk and to invest in their education -- to stop future victimization.

As I presided over Massie's execution, I thought about the abuse and neglect he endured as a child in the foster care system. We failed to keep him safe, and our failure contributed to who he was as an adult. Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to kill him, what if we spent that money on other foster children so that we stop producing men like Massie in the first place?

As director of corrections, I visited Watts and met with some ex-offenders. I learned that the prison system is paroling 300 people every week into the neighborhood without a plan or resources for success. How can we continue to spend more than $100 million a year seeking the execution of a handful of offenders while we fail to meet the basic safety needs of communities like Watts?

It is not realistic to think that Watts and neighborhoods like it will ever get well if we can't -- or won't -- support them in addressing the problems they face.

To say that I have regrets about my involvement in the death penalty is to let myself off the hook too easily. To take a life in order to prove how much we value another life does not strengthen our society. It is a public policy that devalues our very being and detracts crucial resources from programs that could truly make our communities safe.

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on October 2, 2008.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Texas Death Penalty, Todd Willingham and Inflammatory Texas Governor Rick Parry

Cameron Todd Willingham insisted upon his innocence in the deaths of his children and refused an offer to plead guilty in return for a life sentence. Read more: here Be sure to see
Ken Light's unique and startling photographs and his landmark Book TEXAS DEATH ROW University Press of Mississippi 1995 here

Excerpt from another case of Innocence? "We did the best we could with the information we had, but with a little extra work, a little extra effort, maybe we'd have gotten the right information. The bottom line is, an innocent person was put to death for it. We all have our finger in that." Miriam Ward, FOREWOMAN OF THE JURY THAT CONVICTED RUBEN CANTU."

Current item from the Cameron Todd Willingham story:

Willingham's Mother Responds:here


From Texas Moratorium Network:

Thank you to everyone who has already signed the petition to Governor Rick Perry and the State of Texas to acknowledge that the fire in the Cameron Todd Willingham case was not arson, therefore no crime was committed and on February 17, 2004, Texas executed an innocent man.

More than 2,600 people have signed. We are also working with another organization (CredoMobile) that has collected more than 2,500 on their own similar petition. So together we have more than 5,000 petition signatures to turn in to Rick Perry on October 24 during the 10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty in Austin at the Texas Capitol. It starts at 2 PM. Please plan to come to Austin for the march and help us demonstrate to the world and Rick Perry that there are people in Texas who are convinced that Todd Willingham was innocent and that the death penalty should be abolished.

On October 2, Texas Moratorium Network's Scott Cobb appeared on CNN and was probably the first person to accuse Rick Perry on national TV of conducting a cover up in the Todd Willingham case.

Since Scott first accused Perry of a cover up, many others have also accused Perry of a cover up in the Willingham case, including Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (who is hardly a flaming liberal) who issued a press release saying, "Whether it’s University Regents or the Texas Forensic Science Commission, it’s clear that Rick Perry’s talk of checks and balances is just more arrogant political rhetoric. Only Rick Perry would arrogantly warn about the dangers of ‘unchecked government’ as he and his aides force University Regents to resign, pressure appointees and try to cover-up a critical investigation."

“Only the governor knows whether his motives were political, but these recent episodes have produced a pungent smell of politicization. And the odor is nauseating.” – Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"Although Perry has dismissed suggestions that he’s meddling, the governor’s fingerprints are all over the forensic science panel’s inquiry." - Dallas Morning News

Rick Perry yesterday vigorously defended his cover up of the execution of an innocent person in Texas by calling Todd Willingham a "monster".

Eugenia Willingham, Todd's mother, responded to Perry's statement by telephone on last night's CNN AC360, saying that Todd loved his kids and that Todd told her his trial was "a big joke" in part because his own defense lawyer thought he was guilty.

Kay Bailey Hutchison said that Rick Perry's actions and cover up has given "liberals" a valid issue to criticize the death penalty.

Dr. Craig Beyler was quoted on CNN last night saying that Rick Perry's new appointees to the Texas Forensic Science Commission should resign to restore integrity to the process. Beyler also said Perry is using his political clout to protect himself.

10th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty October 24 in Austin GO to marchforabolition dot org

Please come to Austin on October 24 for the march to show the world and Rick Perry that there are people in Texas who are convinced that Todd Willingham was innocent and that the death penalty should be abolished. We have heard from media from around the world who plan to be at the march to cover the the Todd Willingham story. CNN is also planning to be there. We need you to show up so we can show the world that many people in Texas oppose the death penalty.

Speakers at the march will include two innocent, now-exonerated death row prisoners (Shujaa Graham and Curtis McCarty), Jeff Blackburn (Chief Counsel of the Innocence Project of Texas), Jeanette Popp (a mother whose daughter was murdered but who asked the DA not to seek the death penalty), Elizabeth Gilbert (the penpal of Todd Willingham who first pushed his innocence and helped his family find a fire expert to investigate), a family member of Todd Willingham and several other families of people on death row, including the mother of Reginald Blanton who is scheduled for execution in Texas on Oct 27 three days after the march.

The march starts at 2 PM on October 24 at the Texas Capitol. We will gather at the Texas Capitol, march down Congress Avenue to 6th street, then back to the Capitol for a rally to abolish the death penalty.

The night before the march, there will be a panel discussion on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin at 7 PM with Shujaa Graham and Curtis McCarty. They will speak about what it is like to be innocent and sentenced to death. The panel is in the Sinclair Suite (room 3.128) of the Texas Student Union on Guadalupe. Call us if you need more directions 512-552-4743.

Immediately after the march on October 24, we plan to hold a networking and strategy meeting inside the capitol. Everyone is invited to attend the strategy session and help us plan how to move forward to end executions in Texas. The strategy session will start about 30 minutes after the last speaker at the march.

The annual march is organized by several Texas anti-death penalty organizations, including the Austin chapter of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Texas Moratorium Network, the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Texas Students Against the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center and Kids Against the Death Penalty.

If you would like to sign on as a sponsor of the march, click here to fill out the sponsorship form. It is free to be a sponsor. We just ask that you spread the word so that we get a good crowd at the march. Sponsors include Sister Helen Prejean, Bill Pelke and the Journey of Hope, the Texas Civil Rights Project, Reprieve, Iranians for Peace and Justice,Democrats for Life of Texas, S.H.A.P.E Community Center in Houston, the Dallas Peace Center, ALIVE Against the Death Penalty in Germany, Ensemble Against the Death Penalty (France), and many others. See others on the still growing list of sponsors here.

We are thinking about printing some t-shirts with Todd Willingham's picture on it and a quote from him saying, "I am an innocent man - convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do".

For more information and ways to support this effort, please call Scott Cobb
512 552-4743 or 512 961-6389

Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center
3616 Far West Blvd, Suite 117, Box 251
Austin, Texas 78731


Also see this article in Huff Post - Comment here at The Journey of Hope blog-site and/or in Huff Post:

TV news bite with place for Comments here

Time again and again for the classic article: "The Texas Memos" in "The Atlantic Monthly" here

The New Yorker A REPORTER AT LARGE about the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed for setting a fire that killed his three children in Corsicana, Texas, here

Those who read the excellent New Yorker article should also read: here

Huffington Post blogger Barry Scheck, of the Innocence Project, weighs in on the new evidence revealed by an investigative report GO here

Keep following the story in the DallasNews dot com...

(Also see the VIDEO in the post just below on this blog-site: The Journey of Hope)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

PFADP of North Carolina: More than 100 NC Businesses

--Call for End of the Death Penalty

PFADP Launches Grassroots Campaign for Repeal

More than 100 North Carolina businesses have passed resolutions calling on the State of North Carolina to repeal the death penalty.

People of Faith Against the Death Penalty has launched a campaign to gather thousands of repeal resolutions from congregations, businesses, community groups and even local governments.

From Hot Rod Installations in Warrenton to the Southside Seafood and Sandwich Shop in Lumberton, small businesses throughout North Carolina are calling on the state to repeal the death penalty and use the money saved to help murder victims' families and for crime prevention programs. The resolutions call for an immediate suspension of executions until the death penalty is repealed.

We've only just begun.

You can help spread this campaign. Here's what you can do:

1. Endorse "The Abolition Petition" here

2. Download a copy of the resolution from our website, here , and ask your local congregation, and businesses and community groups in your hometown to endorse it. The resolution we are using at the moment is a "pure" resolution involving moral opposition to the death penalty and few statistics. Over time we will post different versions of the resolution, including resolutions for different faith traditions. Got any suggestions or feedback? Tell us. We'd love to know your suggestions for improving the wording.

3. Join PFADP staff and volunteers on our semi-weekly "Resolution Roundups," which are day trips to gather resolutions and build new support for the abolition movement. Watch for announcements.

4. Patronize the businesses that have passed these resolutions and thank them for doing so.

5. Forward this message widely.

The following businesses have passed resolutions for repealing the death penalty. A full list can also be viewed on our website, here

Alamance County, NC

A Beauty Within (Graham)
A New Look Salon (Burlington)
Beyond Beauty (Graham)
Cater 2 U Salon (Burlington)
Court Square Florist (Graham)
Deluxe Barber Shop Mebane)
Divas Only Hair Salon (Burlington)
Downtown Connections (Burlington)
Furniture on 4th Street (Mebane)
Graham Book and Banter (Graham)
H &K Bootery Inc. (Burlington)
Michelle's Kitchen (Burlington)
Rock Crafters (Graham)
Sidetrack Grill (Elon)
Stanford's Clothing (Burlington)
Tasty Bakery (Graham)
The Elegant Relic (Mebane)
Twice is Nice (Burlington)

Beaufort County, NC

Pam's House of Beauty (Washington)
Thomasia's Hair Gallery (Washington)

Buncombe County, NC

A Sense of Humor (Asheville)
Go Girl, Inc. (Asheville)
Natural Selections (Asheville)
Nest Organics (Asheville)
Skydog Enterprises, Inc. (Asheville)

Caswell County, NC

Hunt's Flea Market (Yanceyville)
Image Masters (Yanceyville)
J. Harris Creations (Yanceyville)
La-Shea Clothing (Yanceyville)
North Road Bicycle Company (Yanceyville)

Chatham County, NC

Annie B & The Black & White Guy (Pittsboro)
Don Pablo Mexican Store (Pittsboro)
Realty World Carolina Properties (Pittsboro)
United Books and Stuff (Pittsboro)

Craven County, NC

Bear Essentials (New Bern)
Boston Deli (New Bern)
Green (New Bern)
New Bern Mexican Bakery (New Bern)
Next Chapter Book (New Bern)
Trent River Coffee (New Bern)

Edgecombe County, NC

Carolina Beauty (Tarboro)
Main Street Café (Tarboro)
Modern Barber Shop (Tarboro)
Styles Unique (Tarboro)

Granville County, NC

Aerotek Aviation LLC (Oxford)
Kim's Tailor Shop (Oxford)
Remember When (Oxford)
Salon Matisse (Oxford)
This and That Gift Shop (Oxford)

Harnett County, NC

Kim's Barber Shop (Erwin)

Johnston County, NC

God's Helping Hands Consignment (Benson)

Lenoir County, NC

J.D. Lewis Antiques (Kinston)

Nash County, NC

Men's & Women's Affair Limited (Rocky Mount)

Orange County, NC

Back Alley Bikes (Chapel Hill)
Balloons & Tunes (Carrboro)
Bliss Bakery (Chapel Hill)
Carrboro Music (Carrboro)
Cliff's Meat Market Inc. (Carrboro)
DeLaine House of Beauty (Chapel Hill)
Internationalist Bookstore (Chapel Hill)
People of Faith Against the Death Penalty (Carrboro)
Rare Earth Beads (Carrboro)
Roulette Vintage (Carrboro)
Sandwhich LLC (Chapel Hill)
Touchwood Antiques (Carrboro)
Weaver Street Realty (Carrboro)

Pitt County, NC

Links on Evans (Greenville)
The Sojourner Company, Inc. (Greenville)
Unlimited Cut(, Greenville)
Varsity Barber Shop (Greenville)

Randolph County, NC

Coffee Xchange (Asheboro)
Collectors Antique Mall Inc. (Asheboro)
Dairy Breeze (Seagrove)
El Texanito (Asheboro)
Family Circle Consignment (Asheboro)
First United Methodist Church (Asheboro)
Little Jackie Hair Salon (Asheboro)

Robeson County, NC

Matthews' Beauty Salon & Boutique (Lumberton)
Miss Jo's (Lumberton)
Mud 'N' Munchies Coffee Shop (Lumberton)
Rosie's Reflection of Beauty (Lumberton)
Southside Records and Gear (Lumberton)
Southside Seafood and Sandwich Shop (Lumberton)
The Lady Bug (Lumberton)

Rockingham County, NC

Lashawn's (Eden)
Love Wig (Reidsville)

Vance County, NC

Changes A Head Salon (Henderson)
Kathleen's Alterations (Henderson)
La Chic Beauty Shop (Henderson)
Olympia (Henderson)
Soul Delicious (Henderson)
Southside Office Supply (Henderson)
True Thrift Shop (Henderson)

Wake County, NC

Quail Ridge Books (Raleigh)

Warren County, NC

A & S Pest Control (Norlina)
A Touch of Heaven Barber & Style Shop (Warrenton)
Hot Rod Installations (Warrenton)

Watauga County, NC

641 RPM (Boone)
BeansTalk (Boone)
Boone Florist (Boone)
Jeff Martin Ceramics (Boone)
Open Door (Boone)
Protronics (Boone)
The Dancing Moon (Boone)
The Purple Iris (Boone)

Wayne County, NC
JJ Ashley Bakery (Goldsboro)

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

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bill Pelke in Columbia, South Carolina Wed. October 21st

Bill Pelke, internationally famous expert on the death penalty, will tell his story of forgiveness and healing.

WHAT: Journey of Hope ... From Violence to Healing

WHEN: Wednesday, October 21, 7:00 p.m.

WHERE: Room 005, BA Building (Close/Hipp Bldg.), USC Campus, Columbia, SC

Bill Pelke is the president and co-founder of the Journey of Hope ... from Violence to Healing and has authored a book by the same name. He is a board member of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and served as chair from 2004-08. Bill is also a founding and present board member of Murder Victims Families for Human Rights, an incorporating board member of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, and serves on the boards of Alaskans Against the Death Penalty and the Journey of Hope. He is a cofounder of the Abolition Action Committee and the annual Fast and Vigil at the US Supreme Court.

In 1985 Bill’s grandmother, Ruth Pelke, was murdered by four ninth grade girls. Paula Cooper, who was fifteen years old at the time of the murder, was deemed to be the ringleader and sentenced to die in the electric chair by the state of Indiana.

Originally supportive of the judge’s decision, Bill went through a spiritual transformation which led to forgiveness and healing. Bill realized the death penalty was not the proper solution and worked successfully to have Cooper’s sentence commuted to 60 years in prison. She is still in prison today, but no longer under the sentence of death. Bill has dedicated his life to abolition of the death penalty.

Join us to hear Bill’s story on Wednesday evening, October 21 at 7:00p.m. in room 005 of the BA Building (the Close/Hipp Building) at the Darla Moore School of Business on the University of South Carolina campus. (You can find a map of the area including the Close/Hipp Building by going to here and typing “Business Administration” into the “Places” search box.) There will be time for questions, and refreshments will be provided.

Sponsored by South Carolinians Abolishing the Death Penalty (SCADP) and the USC Chapter of Amnesty International. For more information, see here or call 803-516-4681

Friday, October 09, 2009

RICHARD NETHERCUT: Memoriam for World Day Against the Death Penalty

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field...
Dedicated to the life and work of Richard Nethercut Living a life of compassion, caring and forgiveness...October 23, 1925 -- October 6, 2009 Posted here for October 10th

“If you choose nonviolence, the only path you’re left with is dialogue.”
Lobsang Sangay*

For World Day Against the Death Penalty, October 10th, take a sobering look at all the PLANNED STATE MURDERS around the world -- here

NOW, see this humbling and challenging Memoriam:

RICHARD NETHERCUT made something beautiful beyond belief out of something ugly and horrific. And there are lessons here for our killing world all the way around. There are here the fertile seeds out of the ashes of death: the BETTER WAY of FORGIVENESS as seen by all major spiritualities. These quieting heart lessons live on after Richard's life looks apparently "over" and the vignettes speak to many other realms of our world's hellish responses to tragic events. May Richard's life continue to show us a better way...

Oct 9, 2009, at 12:06 PM, Renny Cushing wrote:

For Victims, Against the Death Penalty
The web log of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2009
In Memoriam: Richard Nethercut We are saddened to learn of the death of MVFHR member Richard Nethercut, who had been reported missing a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday we got the news of his death, and we want to take a few moments to remember him here.

Dick's daughter, Jaina, had been murdered in 1978, and Dick became an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. Here is part of the testimony he gave as part of an MVFHR panel speaking against reinstatement of the death penalty in Massachusetts in 2007:

"As a murder victim family member, I oppose the reinstatement of the death penalty, which from my perspective will only add to the suffering of the victim’s family rather than lessen it. My daughter, Jaina Nethercut, was raped and murdered in a Seattle hotel on January 15, 1978 at age nineteen. … The rape and murder of a 19-year-old could carry the death penalty under this bill. This is the last thing my wife and I would have wanted because it would do violence to us and what we stand for to execute our daughter’s killer."

And here is an excerpt from the book - Bone to Pick: Of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Reparation, and Revenge - by Ellis Cose:

A thin, angular man in his seventies with dark, mostly receded hair and a gentle, earnest manner, Nethercut spends much of his time these days working with prisoners. It was a path he could not have foreseen while growing up in Wisconsin during the 1930s. After serving two years in the army during World War II, he earned a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and eventually ended up in Hong Kong, as a foreign service officer. In Shanghai in 1960, Nethercut and his wife, Lorraine, adopted a two-year-old girl of Russian descent.

Eight years later, Nethercut was assigned to the State Department's Washington headquarters. Their daughter, Eugenia - or Jaina, as they called her - had trouble adjusting to America. Nonetheless, she made it through high school and decided to go to Washington State University. But instead of focusing on her studies, Jaina began hanging out with a sleazy crowd. And in January 1978, she ended up in a welfare hotel in Seattle, apparently looking for marijuana.

She went to the room of a man she reportedly had met the previous night. The man, stoned out of his head, attacked her. She struggled. She managed to get out of the door; but she was dragged back in, raped, and strangled with a pair of stockings. It was Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Jaina was nineteen years old.

The news left Nethercut angry, shocked, and struggling with feelings of powerlessness. He also felt a great deal of guilt. For Jaina's move out west seemed, at least in part, an attempt to distance herself from her family. She wasn't even using the family name, which, for Nethercut, was a source of shame.

Police captured the assailant immediately. And though Nethercut couldn't bear to go to the trial, he was happy the man was sentenced to life in prison. Still, Nethercut was unable to put the tragedy behind him. He was depressed, and his State Department career seemed stalled. Though only in his mid-fifties, he took early retirement two years after Jaina's death and moved to Concord, his wife's hometown, the place where his daughter was buried.

Shortly after the move, Nethercut felt an inexplicable desire to contact the man who had murdered his daughter. He wrote to the chaplain at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington. Weeks later the chaplain called as the murderer waited to get on the line. The conversation lasted roughly ten minutes. Nethercut scarcely remembers what was said. He does recall that the conversation was awkward. "We both danced around the issue. We were quite polite with each other. I wanted to learn more and I didn't learn more. . . . I couldn't understand what had happened." The man expressed regret and yet never acknowledged his crime, and certainly didn't provide the explanation and apology Nethercut so desperately craved. Nevertheless, Nethercut muttered words - insincere though they were - of forgiveness.

The men exchanged Christmas cards a few times; but there was no real relationship to maintain - and no release from the confusion and impotence Nethercut felt. For years, he bottled up his emotions: "I kept my daughter's death to myself. I suppressed it. I didn't go through an authentic grieving process." He blamed himself for being a bad father and wallowed in anger and guilt. Finally, he got psychiatric help for his depression; and he got more involved in the activities of his Congregationalist church.

At a religious retreat in 1986 Nethercut had an encounter that radically changed his life. A Catholic bishop suggested that he become part of a prison Bible fellowship program. The idea strongly appealed to Nethercut, who was searching for a way to fill "the hole in my soul . . . I really wanted to do something positive." Several years later, he got involved in the Alternatives to Violence Program, a two-and-a-half-day immersion experience that brings together prisoners and outsiders to role-play, confess, confide, empathize, and explore ideas about the causes-and cures-for violence. In one of those sessions Nethercut got a chance to role-play the part of the man who had murdered Jaina.

In the exercise, he went before the pretend parole board to make his case for freedom; and for the first time, he felt he understood some part of the man who had killed his daughter. It was unexpectedly empowering.

In 2001, at a national conference of the Alternatives to Violence Program, Nethercut met another man who had murdered a woman. That man, who was no longer in prison, had reached out to the family of the woman he had killed; and the family had refused his apology. As the killer and Nethercut talked of their respective experiences, they realized they could help each other. Shortly thereafter they went through a ceremony with a victim-offender mediator. His new friend apologized for the murder and Nethercut accepted. The ritual served its purpose: "I no longer feel the need to hear directly from the man himself."

Nethercut's life has come to revolve around his volunteer work in prison-and in promoting prison reform and nonviolence. It is his way of honoring his daughter, of "giving a gift of significance to my daughter's life." He sees in many of the young prisoners and ex-offenders something of his daughter. "They are angry, alienated, at the same time . . . looking for love, acceptance." And he has come to realize, he says, voicing John Lewis's precise words, that everyone has "a spark of the divine."

Thoughts of the murderer-given parole after seventeen years despite his life sentence-no longer torment Nethercut, who has finally and totally forgiven the man. "FORGIVENESS IS SOMETHING YOU DO FOR YOURSELF," said Nethercut. "It releases you from a PRISON of YOUR OWN MAKING. You forgive the individual and move on. . . . Reconciliation is a step further. . . . That takes both sides."

Nethercut feels that he is a man transformed, and he is no longer depressed. "I feel more whole, more kind of at peace." Through his work, his faith, determination, and grace, he has turned a tragedy in his past into something about which he feels unequivocally positive.

Renny Cushing
(sent from webmail)

Find out some of what transpired during the search for Richard and a place for expressing emotions of both loss and gratitude for his life:

Find much more on the life of this great holy man -- here

Here are some quotes which those close to Richard wish to share with stoppers-by:

“From my perspective, the death penalty only adds to the suffering of the victim’s family, rather than lessening it. I believe the work I do now in prison and with ex-prisoners honors and gives significance to my daughter's life. In forgiving her killer without condoning his heinous action, I am free to get on with my life,
no longer imprisoned by rage or grief, and this has been very healing for me."
Richard Nethercut
Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.

“Everyone is so afraid of death, but the real Sufis just laugh: nothing tyrannizes their hearts. What strikes the oyster shell does not damage the pearl.”
Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The struggle with evil by means of violence is the same as an attempt to stop a cloud, in order that there may be no rain.
--Leo Tolstoy, novelist and philosopher (1828-1910)
* Quote at top on dialogue from Lobsang Sangay is fleshed out more during this testimony to the Senate regarding China and Tibet: here

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Two More Exonerations From Death Row: 137th and 138th Persons Freed in Oklahoma

Two men who were charged with murder in a 1993 drive-by shooting were released on October 2 after spending almost 15 years on Oklahoma’s death row.

District Attorney David Prater dropped charges against Yancy Douglas (left),35, and Paris Powell (right), 36, after deciding the state's key witness was unreliable.

"Ethically, and on my duty, I could not proceed in this case and had to dismiss it," Prater said.

Derrick Smith, a rival gang member to the defendants and the state's main witness, was one of the apparent targets in the shooting. A federal appeals court in 2006 found that Smith had received a deal from the prosecutors that was not revealed to the defense and overturned the convictions. Smith testified against Powell and Douglas in their 1997 trial, but later admitted he never saw who shot him, that he was drunk and high that night, and that he testified only because prosecutors had threatened him with more prison time.

The District Attorney added, “We all came to the opinion that without Derrick Smith, we did not have a case we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Jack Fisher, Powell’s attorney, said his client has always maintained his innocence and that Powell’s release is “bittersweet. It should have happened a long time ago. It’s unfortunate that he had to spend 16 years of his life in jail. What it boils down to is they had no evidence he was guilty. The testimony that they used to convict him was false.”

(S. Murphy, "Two ex-death row inmates released from Oklahoma prison," Associated Press, October 5, 2009; R. Surette, "Why 2 Death Row Inmates Were Set Free,", Oct. 6, 2009). See Innocence.

Douglas was the 137th inmate exonerated from death row since 1973, and Powell is the 138th, according to a list of exonerations maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center. Ten inmates have been exonerated and freed from Oklahoma. The criteria for inclusion on the list are:

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.
(Source: DPIC)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Shouting from the rooftops!

In 2006, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that there has not been "a single case - not one - in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent's name would be shouted from the rooftops."

Thanks to the September 7 New Yorker article, “Trial by Fire,” we can shout with authority the name of Cameron Todd Willingham, but we need your help to get the message out. Find out more about NCADP's “Shouting from the Rooftops” campaign here.

You can also read a recent op-ed from Diann Rust-Tierney about Cameron Todd Willingham here.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Botched Executions New York Times Editorial

The New York Times

October 3, 2009
Editorial - Botched Executions

Ohio’s attempt to execute Romell Broom last month by lethal injection was the death penalty at its most barbaric. Even after that horribly botched failed execution, the state wants to continue putting people to death, starting next week. Ohio should at the very least call a moratorium so it can ensure that it has the technical competence to put people to death humanely. But every state should use this shameful moment to question whether they ought to be putting people to death at all.

The execution team in Ohio spent about two hours trying to access a vein on Mr. Broom’s arms and legs. They stuck him with a needle about 18 times, returning to areas that were already bruised. In one case, the needle reportedly hit a bone. Mr. Broom tried to help, pointing to veins, massaging his arms to keep a vein open and straightening tubes. At one point, some witnesses suggested he was crying.

Mr. Broom’s case is extraordinary because his execution was actually halted and he was returned to death row. Botched executions, however, are far too common. The Death Penalty Information Center has a harrowing list on its Web site.

In an Alabama electrocution, flames erupted from the electrode attached to a prisoner’s leg, and even after his flesh burned, doctors found a heartbeat. In Florida in 2006, a prisoner required two lethal injections to die. After the first, he seemed to grimace and mouth words.

The Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to Kentucky’s use of lethal injection last year, but it left open the possibility that lethal injection could be cruel and unusual in some circumstances. The record in that case was thin, but Ohio’s use of lethal injection raises more obvious concerns. In the last four years, it has had three botched executions, including one in 2006, which took nearly an hour and a half and left the prisoner’s body with 19 puncture wounds.

We have long believed that capital punishment is wrong in all cases, but even those who support it should not accept cruel procedures.

Ohio should halt any further executions until it conducts a comprehensive study of what is going wrong in its administration of lethal injection and what can be done to ensure that a travesty like Mr. Broom’s attempted execution does not happen again.

Ultimately, every state should pause and consider that ending the life of a healthy man or woman is no simple matter and that even in the 21st century, executioners do not have their job down to anything like a science. No government should put people to death until it can show that the condemned person will not be racked with pain, catch on fire or prove so difficult to kill, as in Mr. Broom’s case, that the executioners are forced to try again another day.

TEXAS: POLL at Todd Willingham's Hometown Paper


GO here to VOTE!

Please vote on the Todd Willingham case about Gov. Perry involvement.

Vote down on right at Willingham's hometown paper #Texas forensic commission purge is political.




Bill Pelke, President
Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing
PO Box 210390
Anchorage, AK 99521-0390
Toll Free 877-9-24GIVE (4483)
Cell 305-775-5823
"The answer is love and compassion for all of humanity"