Friday, December 31, 2010


2010 was a very good year for the Journey of Hope.

We were represented at the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s Conference in Louisville, KY, ECPM’s Fourth World Congress in Geneva, Switzerland, PFADP's KAIROS Conference in Atlanta, Sant' Egidio's Cities for Life Campaign through Europe, and most importantly the very successful Texas Journey of Hope October 15-31!

Led by murder victim family members, joined by death row families, exonerated and other abolitionists we are able to put the human face on the issue of the death penalty. Our unique stories touch people’s hearts and often cause them to change their minds on this important issue.

Thank you once again for your continued support for the Journey of Hope. We appreciate it greatly. Together we can abolish the death penalty!

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

Best Wishes for 2011! here

PS OR GO here

The card may also be printed.

I look forward to a new year of work to lift our organization to the next level!
Best Wishes to you and your loved ones!

Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing
Board Member & Secretary

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"The answer is love and compassion for all of humanity"
Bill Pelke, President

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

GEORGIA: We can live without capital punishment

"Some of us also feel that killing people is itself a crime."

GA: Kagel: Living without death penalty
Wed Dec 29, 2010 05:36

Kagel: Living without death penalty
Athens Banner-Herald
Published Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's been a rough year for government budgets, and serious cuts in Georgia's educational programs are being discussed. Wouldn't state legislators be happy to find a way to cut millions of dollars without jeopardizing public services?

We can live without one totally unnecessary and extremely costly program: capital punishment. Although Georgia has not undertaken a systematic study of the cost of its death penalty system, we can learn some lessons from other states.

Tennessee's comptroller found death penalty trials cost, on average, 48 percent more than trials where life imprisonment is sought. A Duke University economist has estimated North Carolina could save $11 million annually by repealing the death penalty. Florida could save $51 million per year by punishing all first-degree murderers with life imprisonment without parole, according to a Palm Beach Post study.

A wide majority of the country's top criminologists don't believe the death penalty deters crime. Check the website of the Death Penalty Information Center for more information.

Some of us also feel that killing people is itself a crime, and that the risk of killing an innocent person has a moral cost too high for Georgia to pay. We can live without the death penalty.

Laura Tate Kagel

• Laura Tate Kagel is affiliated with the Athens chapter of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

OnlineAthens dot com or GO here

Kevin Cooper and other US hypocrisies (Amnesty and More)

Amnesty has issued several releases calling for Kevin Cooper's Death Sentence to be Commuted:

GO here
and here

Regardless of Cooper's Innocence, where are the safeguards built into our US justice system which supposedly protects the Innocent until PROVEN guilty?

In a recent article by Stephen Lendman:

...Kevin Cooper's case is ... disturbing:

A Black American citizen, he was framed and wrongfully convicted of four June 1983 murders. Evidence proved him innocence, yet he's languished on death row ever since, and faces execution without gubernatorial clemency, pardon, or commutation of his sentence to life.

On December 23, the Los Angeles was supportive in its editorial headlined, "Governor, save inmate's life," saying:

"Even supporters of capital punishment should object to the execution of someone whose guilt is in serious doubt." Since judicial action didn't save him, "the burden is on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger...."

California has 717 inmates on death row. With near certainty, many there are as innocent as Cooper. However, no one intervenes on their behalf because they're poor, Black or Latino - throwaway people out of sight and mind until lethal injections painfully kill them.

"Much of the evidence against Cooper has been seriously questioned, most comprehensively in an opinion by Judge William A. Fletcher of the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, who dissented from a decision not to hear" Cooper's appeal. The above link covers his dissent in detail and his belief that Cooper is innocent, saying:

Based on convincing evidence, Cooper "is probably innocent of the crimes for which the state of California is about to execute him."

The LA Times "opposes the death penalty under any circumstances, and....wouldn't object if the governor commuted" all 717 death row inmates. "But execution is especially outrageous when the prisoner may be innocent. Gov. Schwarzenegger should commute Cooper's sentence."

In fact, Schwarzenegger should pardon him (and others wrongfully convicted), make full restitution for nearly three decades of injustice, and provide substantial aid to help him readjust in society, free at last and fully exonerated.


The International Justice Network's Executive Director, Tina Foster, reported the following - showing ongoing US injustices and inconsistencies in judicial matters affecting the ruin of many lives with imprisonments which amount to living death:

ACLU's Melissa Goodman said:

"Despite concerns that Bagram has become the new Guantanamo, the public remains in the dark when it comes to basic facts about the facility and whom our military is holding in indefinite military detention there. The public has a right to know...." No transparency "is even more disturbing considering the possibility that the US will continue holding and interrogating prisoners at Bagram well into the future."

Stephen Lendman continues in his latest OP Ed:

The ... US District Court for the Southern District of New York went along, violating international and US law, including provisions of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions prohibiting:

* -- "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
* -- outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
* -- the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people;" and
* -- requiring humane treatment under all circumstances.

It's well known that Pentagon/CIA prisoners at Bagram, Guantanamo, and other American torture prisons are brutalized, at times murdered, and denied all basic rights under international law that automatically is US law under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause, Article VI, Clause 2. It states:

"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary, notwithstanding."

Others have also written recently on Cooper's behalf - GO here

Here's Tina Foster's Report from Lahore, Pakistan (Tina Foster Continues with International Justice Network)

On December 22, The International News ( headlined, "Counsel urges unity to bring to bring Aafia home," saying:

Tina Foster said Muslims get second class justice in America, and unless Pakistan pressures Washington to send Aafia home, all Pakistanis will be at risk.

Others as well everywhere, including American citizens at home or abroad. Washington's extremism is so out-of-control that US and international laws don't matter, nor do those of other countries violated with impunity on their territory.

At the Lahore Press Club, Foster said Aafia's court-appointed attorneys would appeal her sentence, challenging both her conviction and 86 year imprisonment. If all Pakistanis and political parties were united on her behalf, she said, Washington might listen.

"The United States claims to have arrested Aafia in Pakistan (so America) should have sent her (there). But instead, they took a Pakistani sister and illegally transferred her all the way to the US," after torturing her for years at Bagram.

Foster added that Washington claims the right to imprison Aafia for life far from home and family. If Pakistan lets this "stand, the US government would have a green light to hold any Pakistani citizen traveling abroad and illegally send them to the United States, a country where Muslims get second class justice. If Pakistanis don't stand up for Aafia, no one will be able to stand up for other Pakistanis at their hour of need."

FOR URLS to the above and Related Items:
GO here

While I do believe we should network across national boundaries to speak against inhumanity, injustice, death penalty and such threats wherever we find it, the following makes some hard to debate points about US inconsistencies:

GO here for December 30, 2010 article: Western double standards
By Yvonne Ridley

Also see an outspoken activists who's seeking to right wrongs toward women (and particularly the case of a victim who faces hanging in Pakistan):

Marvi Sirmed Columnist / Independent Blogger,Founder Editor of Baaghi:
GO here

Note find more on all the above issue in posts below/in archives and also at the following blogsites:

No More Crusades

One Heart for Peace

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bradley Manning: Example of Inhumane Treatment in our Military Prisons

Manning spent his 23rd birthday on Friday completely isolated, just as he has every day for the last five months months in his cell at the Quantico Marine Base.

Manning is the Marine Private accused of leaking classified documents to Wikileaks. Since July, he has been held in cruel and inhumane conditions akin to how the US detains "enemy combatants." He spends each day completely isolated, with severe restrictions placed on basic activities like sleep and exercise. Yet he has not been convicted of any crime.

The extreme isolation in which Manning has spent every day of the last five months is soul-crushing. It’s already taking its toll: Bradley Manning’s physical and mental health are suffering, according to his attorney and friend who have seen him in prison.

Bradley Manning deserves humane treatment while he awaits trial. Can you please add your name to our letter urging Commanding Officer of Quantico Marine Corp Base to lift the heavy restrictions of Manning’s detention?

Bradley's friend, David House, will deliver your letter to the Commanding Officer at the Quantico Marine Base brig when he visits Bradley next month.

While Manning is held in “maximum custody,” the military’s most severe detention policy, he is also under a longstanding “Prevention of Injury” (POI) order that adds additional restrictions beyond those of other prisoners. While POI orders typically last a week or two, Manning has been held under a POI order for the entirety of his detention.

A day in the life of Bradley Manning is isolating, lonely, and frustrating.

* Manning stays in his cell for 23 hours a day
* Guards must check on him every 5 minutes, and he must respond each time
* He is not allowed to sleep between 5am and 8pm
* Substantive exercise is not allowed beyond walking, potentially in chains
* Communication with other people in the brig is banned, and he cannot write to people outside beyond the few a list approved by the brig commander; any unapproved letters he receives are destroyed.
* He has not been allowed to read newspapers or watch international news during TV time
* Comfortable sleep is impossible; he must surrender his clothes each night, has only a heavy “suicide blanket” akin to an x-ray vest, and guards must be able to see his face at all times.

A psychologist has said Manning isn’t a danger to himself or others, and the POI order is unnecessary. His lawyer has also been unable to have the POI order lifted. But it is clear that Bradley Manning has been subjected to inhumane and unnecessary punishment without being convicted of a crime, and it must stop now.

Stop the inhumane treatment of Bradley Manning. Please add your name to our letter urging the Marine Commander in charge of Manning lift the unnecessary POI order.

No matter what you think of Manning's alleged acts, there is no reason to subject him to these extreme conditions. Thank you for standing up for human rights.

- Michael Whitney

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Executing "makes our hearts destructive"

More than 1800 people held a rally in Tokyo on Sunday, calling for the abolition of the death penalty. GO here

"One senseless killing need not beget another"

My brother was murdered and I support ending death penalty

Posted: Friday, Dec. 17, 2010 in the Charlotte Observer

BY Charisse Coleman, a writer and mental health counselor in Durham:

Every time we talk about ending the death penalty in North Carolina, someone throws out the old question: What if someone in your family were murdered? How would you feel then? For most people, that ends the discussion. Not for me.

In 1995, a man walked into the liquor store where my brother worked as a stock clerk and shot him to death. The killer wanted the contents of the cash drawer. For reasons we will never understand, the man launched the robbery by shooting Russell three times in the back, while leaving two other employees unharmed. He now awaits execution in Louisiana.

It was a senseless crime, and it has sometimes been hard over the last 15 years to keep this single event from turning me into someone I don't want to be. Someone more interested in vengeance than justice, for instance.

Precisely because I refuse to let a murderer sour my soul and embitter my life, because I refuse to let him dictate to me the limits of my capacity to heal and thrive, I stand firmly with the growing number of North Carolinians who believe that we must stop looking to a deeply flawed capital punishment system to soothe our anger and grief over violent crime.One senseless killing need not beget another.

Read more here

Thursday, December 16, 2010

TEXAS: Is the tide turning?

Pehaps this is in part a result of our faithful "frontline activists" who were part of the most recent (and other) "Journeys" in Texas? Thanx for ALL you continue to do worldwide. Connie

Is the tide turning against the death penalty?
Mon, Dec 13, 2010
Michael Landauer/Editor

A new report by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty illustrates how doubt is casting its shadow over the justice system in the state. Only eight people were sentenced to death by Texas juries this year, a record low since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Juries opted for life sentences without parole and rejected death sentences in three other cases.

Three prisoners received last-minute reprieves from the Supreme Court, and serious questions were raised about wrongful conviction in another case where Texas had already executed Claude Jones. Also, six prisoners had their sentences reduced on appeal, meaning that prosecutors, judges and/or juries had made serious errors in seeking justice.

The full press release, including links to interactive maps and the full report, can be found here:

Only 2% of Texas Counties Imposed Death Sentences This Year, According to New Report from TCADP
Death sentences, executions drop in 2010 as concerns about reliability and fairness continue to plague Texas death penalty system

(Austin, Texas) -- Death sentences in Texas have dropped more than 70% since 2003, reaching a historic low in 2010 according to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty's (TCADP) new report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2010: The Year in Review. TCADP, an Austin-based statewide, grassroots advocacy organization, releases this annual report each December in conjunction with the anniversary of the resumption of executions in Texas in 1982.

Juries condemned eight new individuals to death in Texas in 2010, which is the lowest number of new death sentences since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Texas' revised death penalty statute in 1976. These new sentences occurred in six counties: Brazos; Dallas; Harris; Nueces; Rusk; and Travis.

Recent sentencing trends illustrate the arbitrary and biased imposition of the death penalty. An analysis of data from 2007 to 2010 reveals that only 21 counties - 8% of the 254 counties in Texas - meted out death sentences over the last four years. Out of a total 43 death sentences imposed statewide between 2007 and 2010, Dallas County leads with seven, followed closely by Harris County, with six new sentences. Bexar and Travis Counties each accounted for three new death sentences since 2007. Nearly three-fourths of all death sentences in Texas over the last four years have been imposed on people of color - 40% African American, 30% Hispanic/Latino, and 2% other.

As part of the report, TCADP has produced two interactive maps highlighting new death sentences by county from 2007 to 2010 and from 1976 to 2010. Clicking on each county reveals the total number of sentences, the number executed, the number awaiting execution, and the number exonerated. See below for links to each map.

The number of executions also dropped in 2010. The State of Texas executed 17 people, the lowest number since 2001. The state remains the nation's leading executioner, accounting for approximately 37% of U.S. executions in 2010. The number of executions in Texas this year represents a smaller percentage of the national total than it has in recent years, however.

"Texas - along with the rest of the nation - is moving away from the death penalty," said Kristin Houlé, Executive Director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "The system is broken beyond repair, and the continued decline in new death sentences shows that jurors and prosecutors in Texas are seeking other ways to address violent crime."

Concerns about wrongful convictions and emerging evidence of wrongful executions dominated headlines this year. On October 27, 2010 Anthony Graves walked out of the Burleson County Jail after spending 18 years in prison - including 12 years on death row - for a crime he did not commit. Prosecutors dropped all charges against Graves and declared him innocent after conducting their own investigation of the case. His conviction was based on the testimony of Robert Carter, who was convicted and executed for the same crime in 2000 and who recanted several times, including from the gurney. Anthony Graves is the 12th person in Texas to be wrongfully convicted and removed from death row and the 138th nationwide.

The ongoing inquiry into the case of Cameron Todd Willingham also underscored the fallibility of the system. Willingham was executed in 2004 for setting a fire to his Corsicana home in 1991 that killed his three young daughters. The Texas Forensic Science Commission admitted "flaws" in the science used to convict him. In January it will hold a special meeting with some of the fire experts who have examined the case since the time of conviction and concluded that there was no evidence to support the finding of arson.

In another case of "flawed" science, recent DNA testing of evidence that was used to convict and execute Claude Jones ten years ago this month revealed that the strand of hair belonged to the victim, not to Jones, as a forensic expert testified during his 1990 trial. While the DNA results do not exonerate Jones, they raise serious questions about the reliability of his conviction.

Other highlights of Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2010: The Year in Review include the following:
• In three capital murder trials, juries rejected the death penalty and opted for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Over the last three years, juries have rejected the death penalty in a dozen cases (two each in Travis and Bexar Counties).
• Three inmates scheduled for execution in 2010 received last-minute stays; the execution date of another inmate was withdrawn. On March 24, Henry "Hank" Skinner received a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court shortly after eating his "last meal." In October, the Court heard arguments to determine whether Skinner can seek access to post-conviction DNA testing through the federal Civil Rights Act. Texas officials have refused to release key pieces of evidence gathered at the crime scene in 1993 for testing.
• At least six inmates received reduced sentences in 2010 and were removed from the death row population, including several inmates whose death sentences were overturned because jurors did not hear mitigating evidence during their original trials. Three other inmates died in custody, including Ronald Chambers, who spent 35 years on death row and was awaiting a fourth sentencing hearing related to the 1975 murder of Mike McMahan.
• A nationwide shortage of the first drug used in the lethal injection protocol, sodium thiopental, led some states to postpone executions as their supplies dwindle or expire. In November, officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice revealed that they had enough drugs on hand to execute 39 people, but that doses of sodium thiopental will expire in March 2011.
• There currently are 317 people (307 men and 10 women) on death row in Texas. Texas holds the third-largest death row population in the nation, after California (713) and Florida (393).

"2010 may go down in history as the 'Year of Doubt,' when case after case exposed the flaws and failures of the Texas death penalty and shook public faith in the criminal justice system to its core," said Houlé. "During this time of fiscal crisis, TCADP urges all elected officials to take a good hard look at the death penalty system and ask whether this is a good use of tax payers' dollars when there are alternative ways to protect society and punish those who are truly guilty."

Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2010: The Year in Review is available online. OR click here

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Poll: End North Carolina Death Penalty?

Note: Find items on AASIA BIBI in post just below this one or click here

December 13, 2010

RALEIGH, N.C. - A majority of people in North Carolina are willing to consider ending their state's death penalty, according to a new poll released today by the Fair Trial Initiative. The survey found that recent news of wrongful convictions and tainted forensic evidence at the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) labs are prompting people to reconsider the controversial punishment.

Mark Kleinschmidt, executive director of the Fair Trial Initiative in Durham, explains the poll results.

"North Carolinians are saying two to one: 'Don't execute anyone until we can be sure that all the evidence was good evidence, and the testing points to the guilty party.'"

Those in favor of the death penalty argue that it still has a place in the justice system for the most extreme crimes. In the poll, 80-percent of respondents identified themselves as either moderate or conservative.

Advocates for ending the death penalty claim that doing so would save $11 million a year in capital punishment costs to the state. Kleinschmidt explains why it's so expensive.

"The way that our death penalty system is operating in North Carolina, it's hard to imagine a less-efficient use of taxpayer dollars. It gives us pause."

In addition to issues with evidence-handling at the North Carolina SBI crime labs, studies have pointed to a racial bias in death sentences. This led to the passage of the Racial Justice Act last year; it allows inmates who can prove racial bias to have their sentence converted to life in prison without parole.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC

Find original article featured at Pubic News Service dot org on Monday here

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

UPDATE - 2nd January for: Aasia Bibi's Cross (Updated December 14)

I decided to post this editorial here to 1) show one clear example of MANY Muslims and other Journalists in Pakistan who've been speaking out against Aasia Bibi's verdict as well as 2) an important piece with truth/wisdom for us ALL: here

Aasia Bibi

The daughters of Aasia Bibi hold a photo of their mother outside their residence in Ittanwalai, Pakistan, Nov. 13. Reuters

See Dec. 14th and other Updates below...

Because there's so much injustice the US has rained down on the world, including with the recent sentencing of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui to 86 years and she's now in Texas - an horrific prison with a history of abusing women - I hesitate to bring up another woman's heart-wrenching case in another land. (Since we don't know how to get the motes out of our own eyes)...but we are ONE HUMANITY...and are ALL needed to stand against the death penalty and a harsh sentence to life behind bars no matter what. What should it matter to us whether our stand is for a Muslim woman or a Christian one no matter our own persuasian? In PAKISTAN, Christians, Muslims and NGOs are mobilizing for Asia Bibi...Increasingly, people are speaking out against the blasphemy law as a tool for personal vendettas and fodder for extremism. Hundreds of thousands of people have signed petitions in favor of Asia Bibi's life. Still she and her family wait, wondering. Catholic and Protestant leaders as well as Muslim scholars and non-governmental organizations have slammed a court’s decision to impose the death sentence on this Christian women convicted on blasphemy charges. She is the first woman sentenced to death for such an offense, and many Pakistanis are pressuring the government to change or repeal the country’s “obscene” blasphemy legislation. (This and following intro is from Asia News)

Chair Anis Haroon
Just as activists, scholars and many others in America speak out when it comes to the death penalty, so do many in Pakistan. Among them, the Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) Anis Haroon said the commission was concerned about Aasia Bibi’s security. She said minorities were not harming the interests of the country. Former chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology Dr Khalid Masood said there was ‘religious illiteracy’ even among the literates. He said nowhere in the Holy Quran there is mention of death sentence for those committing blasphemous acts.

Aasia Bibi was arrested in the village of Ittanwalai under Section 295 C. Judge Naveed Iqbal imposed the death sentence almost year after the offence took place.
Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, 51, told AsiaNews that he would appeal her sentence, which must be upheld by the Lahore high court, the highest tribunal in Punjab before it can be carried out. Asia and Ashiq have two sons and three daughters.

"Aasia is innocent, the villagers are taking out a personal revenge", Sadiq Masih a close relative told AsiaNews. In the meantime, Life for All has launched a nationwide ‘Save Bibi’ campaign. In a week, it got 76,000 signatures. Another NGO, Peace Pakistan, has reached 51,000 signatures.

...Muhammad Hafiz, an Islamic scholar, spoke to AsiaNews about it: “The death sentence of Asia Bibi came as a shock to me” because “Islam teaches us to protect religious minorities,” he said.

The following article is by Noel Irwin Hentschel who is extensively involved in Interfaith work as a Fransciscan and has spent time in area of Asia Bibi's family:

Pakistan: The Shame and the Promise

The world is shocked by the death sentence imposed in Pakistan on Aasia Bibi, a young Christian mother of five, imprisoned under the country's controversial blasphemy statute. This inhumane act paradoxically occurred while devout Muslims fulfilled their Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca where they prayed for Allah's mercy. This punishment is contrary to Islamic teachings on justice.

How can the benevolent act of sharing water, the source of life, undertaken by this Pakistani Christian woman toward her Pakistani Muslim co-worker lead to a death sentence? The co-worker refused to accept water drawn from the same barrel as a non-Muslim sparking a callous and controversial case.

Court documents indicate that the encounter provoked two unmarried women to accuse Bibi of making an offensive remark about the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. Bibi denies this allegation testifying that she never defiled the Prophet or commented against Islam. She maintains her innocence but asked forgiveness and after already serving 15 months in prison received an astounding response by the judge who condemned her to be executed. Leaving one to ponder, where is Islamic justice?

This harsh Blasphemy Law, forced upon Pakistan by former President Zia ul Haq, was one of the first examples by extremists in Pakistan to manipulate and exploit Islam for their own political gain. In Zia's case, it was consolidation of power. Later his supporter Nawaz Sharif, known for ordering the Pakistan nuclear tests in 1998, now heading the hardliner Pakistan Muslim League PML(N), continued the politicization of Islam. Equally disturbing are the actions of former self installed President, Pervez Musharraf, who defends the cruel Hadood ordinances that force women to produce four witnesses when they are raped or be arrested for adultery.

This pattern of perversion of Islamic principles in Pakistan now rivets the world's attention as it did when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated three years ago. Bibi and her family fear that she will be murdered as well while waiting for justice to be served. The death sentence against Asia Bibi for blasphemy is not only directed against her and her family, but in a broader sense against all of Pakistan, a nation whose international reputation hangs by a thread.

The Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan are antithetical to the protections to minorities guaranteed in Pakistan's Constitution and the very concept of religious freedom on which Pakistan was founded in 1947. A study by the National Commission for Justice and Peace reports that a total of 964 people have been charged under this ordinance: 479 Muslims, 340 Ahmedis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 of other religions. Thirty-two people charged with blasphemy have been murdered through extra-judicial killings. In the case of Asia Bibi, the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court said, "the treatment meted out to the woman was an insult to humanity."

Fortunately the current elected President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, has taken a forthright stand, reiterating "Pakistan is a nation of many religions and all Pakistanis, no matter what their faith, are equal under the law." Zardari recently indicated that if his action is necessary, he "will grant clemency to Bibi to insure that she is neither incarcerated nor harmed." However, Zardari's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) does not have the necessary votes in Parliament to repeal these dysfunctional blasphemy statutes and there is pressure for him to acquiesce to radical extremist factions. It is wrong and unjust that Nawaz Sharif, head of the second largest party in Pakistan, refuses to join with Zardari to change this discriminatory law.

It is unacceptable that billions of dollars of US economic aid are flowing to a nation that is persecuting minorities. The blasphemy edicts send a message to the international business community that Pakistan is an unwelcome place to invest and to do business. The blasphemy laws do not only undermine justice and decency in Pakistan, but subverts Pakistan's place in the community of nations. My visits to Islamabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi, working with people of Pakistan from various fields, validates the potential promise of Pakistan, but only if these unjust and malevolent laws are repealed.

The Holy Qur'ān demands that Muslims bring about justice with benevolence (ihsān), "Surely God enjoins justice and doing good to others (ihsān) (16:90)." According to Mohammad Hashim Kamali, author of Foundations of Islam: Shari'ah Law "Justice must be attempted in the spirit of ihsān, that is, even when it is not demanded by anyone; the attempt should be in equity and good faith which would gain the pleasure of God." The responsibility of justice by Muslims to non-Muslims is found in Ibn al-Qayyim's teachings in Al-Turuq al-Hukmiyah, "Any path that leads to justice and fairness is an integral part of the religion and can never be contrary to it." Muslims towards non-Muslims are directed in the Qur'ān to act justly with benevolence, "God forbids you not to do good and be just. God loves those who have strived for justice (60:8)."

My lifework is to advance economic opportunities and support for those in need with initiatives that bring people of all religions together for peace. Inspired and mentored by Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity; I travel to far regions of the world supporting their ministry of universal love. As a mother, it was heart wrenching seeing the tears of sorrow on Bibi's 12-year-old daughter, Isham Masih and to hear this child's agonizing pleas for her mother's life...


14 December UPDATE

Research Brief Pakistan's Jinnah Institute here and another case brought up on the online institute site here

Amnesty International Report/OPed here


2nd December 2010 UPDATE:

Like the US, Pakistan fails in some significant ways on rights...Although we are in a tough position to point fingers - the anti-death penalty movement universally brings light and makes neutral our concerns. Petitions are easily available online on behalf of Aasia Bibi and this just in from Human Rights Watch:

From: HRW Press
Sent: Thu 02/12/2010 09:59
To: HRW Press
Subject: Pakistan: Allow Pardon for Blasphemy Victim

For Immediate Release

Pakistan: Allow Pardon for Blasphemy Victim
High Court Overreaches in Barring Presidential Pardon

(New York, December 2, 2010) – A Pakistani court’s order to bar President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning a woman sentenced to death for blasphemy contravenes Pakistan’s constitution and should be withdrawn immediately, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Lahore High Court in Punjab province issued an order on November 29, 2010, barring Zardari from exercising his constitutional authority to pardon Aasia Bibi, an illiterate farmhand who had been convicted by the Sheikhupura District Court of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Zardari had ordered a review of the case in mid-November, after domestic and international outrage over the sentence. A ministerial inquiry concluded on November 25 that the district court verdict was legally unsound.

“The Lahore high court has overstepped its constitutional authority by preventing President Zardari from pardoning Aasia Bibi, who was unjustly convicted under a discriminatory law,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The court has blocked Zardari from promptly correcting a cruel wrong and instead has disgraced Pakistan’s judiciary.”

Aasia Bibi was charged under the blasphemy law after a June 2009 altercation with fellow farm workers who refused to drink water she had touched, contending it was “unclean” because she was Christian. On November 8, the Sheikhupura District Court found her guilty, ruling that there were “no mitigating circumstances.”

She is the first woman in Pakistan’s history to be sentenced to capital punishment for blasphemy, though others have been charged and given lesser sentences.

Pakistan’s constitution is unequivocal in providing the president with the power to pardon, Human Rights Watch said. Article 45 of the constitution states that, “The president shall have power to grant pardon, reprieve, and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority.”

Prior to the action of the Lahore High Court, senior Pakistani government officials had indicated to Human Rights Watch and to the media that Zardari was likely to use his constitutional prerogative to pardon and free Aasia Bibi.

The court stated in its interim order that any pardon would be “premature” as Aasia Bibi’s appeal of her conviction was pending before the court. Senior Pakistani lawyers, including Asma Jahangir, a prominent human rights advocate and president of the prestigious Supreme Court Bar Association, the country’s most influential forum for lawyers, have publicly criticized the Lahore High Court order.

Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for repeal of the blasphemy law and other discriminatory provisions in Pakistan’s penal code. International and Pakistani human rights organizations have long called for the repeal of the blasphemy law, as section 295-C of the penal code is known, which makes the death penalty mandatory for blasphemy. The law has come under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks as a consequence of the Aasia Bibi case. In 2009, authorities charged scores of people under the law. Many of them remain in prison.

“Not only do those charged under the blasphemy law suffer persecution, it is evident the ill effects of discriminatory laws are compounded by unsympathetic courts,” Hasan said.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Pakistan, please visit:

For more information, please contact:
In Lahore, Ali Dayan Hasan (English, Urdu): +92-300-842-5125 (mobile)
In Washington, DC, Sophie Richardson (English, Mandarin): +1-202-612-4341; or +1-917-721-7473 (mobile)
In Jakarta, Elaine Pearson (English): +62-812-8222-3591 (mobile)
In London, Tom Porteous (English): +44-20-7713-2766; or +44-79-8398-4982 (mobile)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ex-Justice Criticizes Death Penalty

By ADAM LIPTAK, published: November 27, 2010, The New York Times

In 1976, just six months after he joined the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens voted to reinstate capital punishment after a four-year moratorium. With the right procedures, he wrote, it is possible to ensure “evenhanded, rational and consistent imposition of death sentences under law.”

In 2008, two years before he announced his retirement, Justice Stevens reversed course and in a concurrence said that he now believed the death penalty to be unconstitutional.

But the reason for that change of heart, after more than three decades on the court and some 1,100 executions, has in many ways remained a mystery, and now Justice Stevens has provided an explanation.

In a detailed, candid and critical essay to be published this week in The New York Review of Books, he wrote that personnel changes on the court, coupled with “regrettable judicial activism,” had created a system of capital punishment that is shot through with racism, skewed toward conviction, infected with politics and tinged with hysteria.

The essay is remarkable in itself. But it is also a sign that at 90, Justice Stevens is intent on speaking his mind on issues that may have been off limits while he was on the court.

In the process, he is forging a new model of what to expect from Supreme Court justices after they leave the bench, one that includes high-profile interviews and provocative speeches.

He will be on “60 Minutes” on Sunday night.

Earlier this month, he weighed in on the controversy over the proposed Islamic center near ground zero in a speech to the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation.

During World War II, Justice Stevens served as a Navy cryptographer at Pearl Harbor for more than two years. On returning to Hawaii in 1994, he said he had an emotional reaction to seeing Japanese tourists at a memorial there. “We shouldn’t allow them to celebrate their attack on Pearl Harbor,” he remembered thinking.

He added that he understood why some New Yorkers would have a similar reaction to the proposed Islamic center near ground zero.

“But then, after a period of reflection, some of those New Yorkers may have second thoughts, just as I did,” he went on. “The Japanese tourists were not responsible for what some of their countrymen did decades ago; the Muslims planning to build the mosque are not responsible for what an entirely different group of Muslims did on 9/11.”

The two other retired justices have been active, too, but they have largely limited their public comments to more traditional matters like judicial independence and constitutional interpretation. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who is 80, speaks frequently on what she says are the problems inherent in electing state court judges.

Justice David H. Souter, 71, in a commencement address in May at Harvard, gave a detailed critique of the mode of constitutional interpretation associated with Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who rely on the text and original meaning of the Constitution.

Justice Souter said those tools are inadequate given the “open-ended language” in the Constitution, which, moreover, “contains values that may well exist in tension with each other.”

But that sort of abstract discussion is nothing like the blow-by-blow critique in Justice Stevens’s death penalty essay, which will be published in The New York Review’s Dec. 23 issue and will be available on its Web site on Sunday evening.

The essay is actually a review of the book “Peculiar Institution: America’s Death Penalty in an Age of Abolition,” by David Garland, a professor of law and sociology at New York University. The book compares American and European approaches to the death penalty, and Justice Stevens appears to accept its major conclusions.

Professor Garland attributes American enthusiasm for capital punishment to politics and a cultural fascination with violence and death.

In discussing the book, Justice Stevens defended the promise of the Supreme Court’s 1976 decisions reinstating the death penalty even as he detailed the ways in which he said that promise had been betrayed.

With the right procedural safeguards, Justice Stevens wrote, it would be possible to isolate the extremely serious crimes for which death is warranted. But he said the Supreme Court had instead systematically dismantled those safeguards.

Justice Stevens said the court took wrong turns in deciding how juries in death penalty cases are chosen and what evidence they may hear, in not looking closely enough at racial disparities in the capital justice system, and in failing to police the role politics can play in decisions to seek and impose the death penalty.

In Payne v. Tennessee in 1991, for instance, the court overruled a 1987 decision, Booth v. Maryland, that had banned statements from victims at sentencing because of their tendency to inflame juries.

“I have no doubt that Justice Lewis Powell, who wrote the Booth opinion, and Justice William Brennan, who joined it, would have adhered to its reasoning in 1991 had they remained on the court,” Justice Stevens wrote. “That the justices who replaced them did not do so was regrettable judicial activism and a disappointing departure from the ideal that the court, notwithstanding changes in membership, upholds its prior decisions.”

Justice Stevens did not name those new justices. One was Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, lately the court’s swing justice, who replaced Justice Powell.

The other was Justice Souter, who replaced Justice Brennan and in other cases generally voted with Justice Stevens and the rest of the court’s more liberal wing.

Justice Stevens also had harsh words for the 5-to-4 decision in 1987 in McCleskey v. Kemp, which ruled that even solid statistical evidence of racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty did not violate the Constitution. He said the decision effectively allowed “race-based prosecutorial decisions.”

“That the murder of black victims is treated as less culpable than the murder of white victims provides a haunting reminder of once-prevalent Southern lynchings,” Justice Stevens wrote.

Here, too, Justice Stevens wrote, the decision turned on changes in the court’s membership. Justice Potter Stewart “surely would have voted with the four dissenters,” Justice Stevens said. Justice Stewart was replaced by Justice O’Connor, who voted with the majority.

The problems with the administration of capital punishment extend beyond the courthouse and into the voting booth, Justice Stevens said.

“Local elections affect decisions of state prosecutors to seek the death penalty and of state judges to impose it,” he wrote.

He was also critical of decisions allowing prosecutors to exclude jurors with qualms about the death penalty, tilting the legal playing field toward conviction. The better approach, he said, is one in which “a jury composed of 12 local citizens selected with less regard to their death penalty views than occurs today — in that respect, a truer cross-section of the community — would determine individual defendants’ fates.”

Robert B. Silvers, the editor of The New York Review of Books, said the idea of asking Justice Stevens to contribute occurred to him after he read passages from the justice’s dissent in Citizens United, the January decision that lifted restrictions on campaign spending.

“It was clear that he was a very strong writer,” Mr. Silvers said. “We simply sent him the book, and we got back a letter saying he’d be delighted to review it.”

Thursday, November 25, 2010

US 26/11 survivors not in favour of death penalty for Kasab

Posted in The Economic Times

Forgiving the convicted Pakistani terrorist, the US survivors of 26/11 terror attack today said death penalty is not a solution for Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab , instead he could be rehabilitated.

"Why did Kasab survive (during the attacks)? Should we just be hateful, vengeful and killing? What will that accomplish," asked Master Charles Cannon , one of the American survivors trapped inside the Oberoi Hotel with a group of 25 others.

Kasab could be rehabilitated and "awakened" to see what his choice has created, said Cannon adding, "may be, he could change his way and be a voice for the youth of the world from where he came to tell them not to emulate him."

Cannon, along with his group 24 companions, had come to Mumbai in November 2008 to attend a spiritual programme. On the fateful night, the group of the US, Australian and Canada citizens was staying in the Oberoi Hotel, when terrorists struck the hotel. Two of them were killed.

"I do not favour death penalty because, I it does not accomplish anything but breeds more hatred and violence. I am always in favour of education which can bring transformation," said Cannon, who found 'One Life Alliance Mumbai Survivors', a charitable trust.

Survivors of the same group were here to pay tributes to the martyrs and those killed in the attacks.

The 66-year-old Peggi Sturm also echoed similar views. "We should see if Kasab could be rehabilitated," she said.

The charitable trust co-founder Kia Scherr , who lost her 13-year-old daughter and her 58-year-old husband, said forgiveness makes a person very strong.

"They (terrorists) do not know what they have done. And it was not very easy for me to forget that I had lost my daughter and husband. But I want to spread the message of forgiveness," she said.

Note by the editor of this blog:
A bit more information on the Mumbai attacks taken from Wikipedia: The 2008 Mumbai attacks (often referred to as November 26th or 26/11) were more than 10 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks across Mumbai, India's largest city, by Islamic terrorists from Pakistan. The attacks, which drew widespread global condemnation, began on 26 November 2008 and lasted until 29 November, killing at least 175 people and wounding at least 308.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

KAIROS Conference - Bill Pelke

The Conference in Atlanta, Georgia this week was a KAIROS moment for me.

Thank you very much Steve Dear and People of Faith Against the Death Penalty for having the vision, ability and determination to make this moment happen.

It was 20 years ago on the Pilgrimage March from Death Row in Starke, Florida to Atlanta, Georgia, that God touched my heart to dedicate my life to the abolition of the death penalty. It has been a struggle for 20 years and I have often wanted to quit the movement. But as “Sweet Honey and the Rock” sang at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on the opening night of the conference “We who believe in Freedom will not rest, we who believe in Freedom will not rest until it comes.” I can’t quit and I needed this KAIROS moment.

I feel strengthen to carry on. Reconnecting with Sister Helen Prejean, Murphy Davis, Ed Loring, Billy Neal Moore, Delbert Tibbs, Bud Welch, Marietta Jaeger Lane, Karen Tifton, Jeanne Bishop, Renny Cushing, Ken McGill, Bonita Spikes, Marshall Dayan, Dale Recinella and so many others was very strengthening for me.

Meeting Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, Rev. James Brown, and listening to Dr. David Gushee gave great hope to me.

Thank you so much. I am convinced that people of faith must lead the movement to abolish the death penalty. I hope this conference will be repeated over and over again until the death penalty is abolished.

Thank you Steve Dear, Thank you, Thank you. God’s Peace,

Bill Pelke,
President and Cofounder Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Film Review: Conviction

Inspirational true story about a Massachusetts woman’s 18-year struggle to further her education, earn a law degree, and reverse the murder conviction of her older brother.

I saw this film with my husband, son and son's girlfriend. I'd give it FIVE stars unlike some. Maybe that's because it rings so true or because we here know how much the Innocence Project does for justice and the innocent. Yet, I'm pretty picky about films and literature and I found the writing to be both magnificent, believable and even funny at times. Did any of you readers see it? If so, let us know in comments what you thought? Connie

Oct 14, 2010

-By Kevin Lally

For original posting here

For movie details, please click here.
Hilary Swank has won two Oscars playing working-class underdogs, and she’s back on familiar turf in Conviction as Betty Anne Waters, a Massachusetts single mother and high-school dropout who embarks on an 18-year quest to earn a law degree and win the freedom of her brother Kenneth, a hellion serving a life sentence for a murder she fully believes he did not commit. Like Erin Brockovich, it’s an inspirational tale of dogged determination embodied by a most unlikely heroine. The movie itself is less remarkable than the story behind it, but it benefits from Tony Goldwyn’s low-key direction and a very solid supporting cast.

From the glimpses we get of his life before prison, Kenneth Waters (Sam Rockwell) is a magnet for trouble. He and Betty Anne are two of nine kids sired by seven different fathers and shuttled through foster care. Growing up, the exceptionally close pair get their kicks stealing candy and find refuge by breaking into trailer homes. As an adult, the volatile Kenneth is fingered as a suspect in the gruesome robbery and murder of an elderly neighborhood woman, and convicted when two bitter ex-girlfriends give damning testimony for the prosecution.

Betty Anne refuses to accept the verdict and, spurred by her brother’s suicide attempt in prison, earns a high-school diploma and a college degree, all with the goal of attending law school and passing the bar while raising two young boys. At law school, she makes an invaluable friend in fellow student Abra (Minnie Driver), who becomes her chief ally and moral support in this daunting mission. Advances in DNA testing since Kenneth’s trial are Betty Anne’s greatest hope, but the novice lawyer must first battle a bureaucracy that insists the original evidence has been destroyed.

Conviction features more thick Massachusetts accents than a Ben Affleck double bill, and Swank’s saintly, salt-of-the-earth demeanor doesn’t offer many surprises. Still, there’s no denying that Betty Anne Waters’ odyssey is an extremely admirable study in resoluteness and familial devotion. Lending more edge and flavor to the story is the gifted Rockwell, who makes a stunning transformation from cocky, charismatic pre-trial bad boy to deflated, angry, prematurely aging lifer. Rockwell’s performance is also just abrasive enough to cast some doubt on his innocence and make his sister’s faith all the more exceptional.

Driver is delightful as the kind of saucy, loyal friend anyone would cherish, and Melissa Leo ( Frozen River) is persuasive as a local cop whose ethics may be suspect. Appearing in only two scenes, Juliette Lewis steals her screen time as an ex-flame of Kenneth’s who brings scary hilarity to her interpretation of “white trash.”

Screenwriter Pamela Gray, who wrote Goldwyn’s acclaimed 1999 romantic drama A Walk on the Moon, has a lot of ground to cover here, and some of the details of the Waters saga—especially Betty Anne’s accelerated education and the brief scenes of the trial—feel sketchy. There are even flashbacks within flashbacks, as Gray and Goldwyn try to convey a sense of Betty Anne and Kenneth’s childhood bond and broken home.

End titles reveal that Betty Anne Waters, who still works at the same pub depicted in the movie, volunteers for the Innocence Project, an organization co-founded by her co-attorney Barry Scheck, which helps exonerate prisoners through DNA testing. The titles don’t tell you that Kenneth Waters succumbed to a fatal fall just six months after winning his freedom—a sad twist of fate that might have burdened Conviction’s own quest to be the feel-good inspirational movie of fall 2010.

Monday, November 15, 2010

DNA Tests Undermine Evidence in Texas Execution

New results show Claude Jones was put to death on flawed evidence.
By Dave Mann, published in the Texas Observer on Nov. 11th, 2011.

Claude Jones always claimed that he wasn’t the man who walked into an East Texas liquor store in 1989 and shot the owner. He professed his innocence right up until the moment he was strapped to a gurney in the Texas execution chamber and put to death on Dec. 7, 2000. His murder conviction was based on a single piece of forensic evidence recovered from the crime scene—a strand of hair—that prosecutors claimed belonged to Jones.

But DNA tests completed this week at the request of the Observer and the New York-based Innocence Project show the hair didn’t belong to Jones after all. The day before his death in December 2000, Jones asked for a stay of execution so the strand of hair could be submitted for DNA testing. He was denied by then-Gov. George W. Bush.

A decade later, the results of DNA testing not only undermine the evidence that convicted Jones, but raise the possibility that Texas executed an innocent man. The DNA tests—conducted by Mitotyping Technologies, a private lab in State College, Pa., and first reported by the Observer on Thursday—show the hair belonged to the victim of the shooting, Allen Hilzendager, the 44-year-old owner of the liquor store.

Because the DNA testing doesn’t implicate another shooter, the results don’t prove Jones’ innocence. But the hair was the only piece of evidence that placed Jones at the crime scene. So while the results don’t exonerate him, they raise serious doubts about his guilt. As with the now-infamous Cameron Todd Willingham arson case, the key forensic evidence in a Texas death penalty case has now been debunked.

“The DNA results prove that testimony about the hair sample on which this entire case rests was just wrong,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, in a statement. “Unreliable forensic science and a completely inadequate post-conviction review process cost Claude Jones his life.”

Jones was 60 years old when he was executed on December 7, 2000—the last man put to death by then-Gov. Bush. The Observer and three innocence groups recently obtained the hair after a three-year court battle and submitted it for mitochondrial DNA testing.

That technology didn’t exist when Jones was convicted in 1990. But the DNA test had been developed by 2000, when Jones’ execution date was nearing. He requested a stay of execution from two Texas courts and from the governor’s office in order to test the hair evidence and prove his innocence. His requests were all denied.

Documents show that attorneys in the governor’s office failed to inform Bush that DNA evidence might exonerate Jones. Bush, a proponent of DNA testing in death penalty cases, had previously halted another execution so that key DNA evidence could be examined. Without knowing that Jones wanted DNA testing, Bush let the execution go forward.

Had the DNA tests been conducted before his execution, Jones might still be alive today. Scheck says these results, had they been obtained 10 years ago, probably would have led judges to throw out Jones’ conviction and grant him a new trial.

“I’m convinced that [Bush] would have granted this reprieve had he known about it," Scheck told the Observer on Thursday. "I find it just astonishing that he wasn’t told. That’s a pretty serious breakdown in the criminal justice system."


Claude Jones was no saint. Born in Houston in 1940, he was arrested numerous times and spent three stints in prison on robbery, assault and theft charges. While serving an eight-year sentence in a Kansas prison, Jones allegedly doused another inmate with lighter fluid and set him on fire.

But Jones wasn’t executed for his previous crimes. He was put to death for what allegedly happened on the afternoon of Nov. 14, 1989.

Jones and an accomplice named Kerry Daniel Dixon pulled into Zell’s liquor store in the East Texas town of Point Blank, about 80 miles northeast of Houston. They had a .357 magnum revolver given to them by a third man, Timothy Jordan.

Either Jones or Dixon remained in the pickup truck, while the other went inside and shot the store’s owner, 44-year-old Allen Hilzendager, three times and made off with several hundred dollars from the cash register.

The question is, which of them committed the shooting? Witnesses who saw the crime from across the street couldn’t positively identify which man they saw leave the store. The third accomplice, Timothy Jordan, would testify that Jones confessed to the shooting. (Jordan later recanted his testimony, claiming police told him what to say in exchange for a lesser charge. Jordan, Dixon and Jones had committed a string of robberies, though the liquor store heist was the only one that involved murder. Jordan was sent to prison for 10 years. Dixon was given a 60-year sentence.)

But Jordan’s testimony wasn’t enough to convict Jones of murder. In Texas, accomplice testimony can’t be the sole basis for a conviction; it must be corroborated by independent evidence.

At Jones’ 1990 trial in rural San Jacinto County, prosecutors offered only one piece of corroborating evidence—the strand of hair recovered from the liquor store counter.

Stephen Robertson, a forensic expert hired by the Department of Public Safety, examined the hair under a microscope—an inaccurate visual analysis that was common at the time. Robertson compared the hair with samples taken from 15 people who entered the store the day of the murder. He testified at trial that he believed the hair matched Jones. But he conceded, “Technology has not advanced where we can tell you that this hair came from that person,” he told the jury, according to court records. “Can’t be done.”

But in 2000, when Jones was fighting for his life, it could be done. On December 6, 2000, the day before the execution, Jones’ attorneys filed a last-ditch motion for a stay—in district court and with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals—so they could submit the strand of hair for mitochondrial DNA testing. Both courts turned him down.

Jones’ last hope was Gov. Bush, who in December 2000 was embroiled in the Florida recount controversy that followed the presidential election. Bush had already overseen the execution of 151 people during his governorship, but he’d also expressed support for DNA testing. Earlier that year, Bush had granted a 30-day stay to Ricky McGinn so that DNA testing could be conducted on key evidence in the case. (The tests would prove McGinn’s guilt and he was executed.) Bush, explaining his decision in the McGinn case to CNN in June 2000, said, “To the extent that DNA can prove for certain innocence or guilt, I think we need to use DNA.”

But Bush was never told about Jones’ request for DNA testing. Through a public-information request, the Innocence Project obtained the Dec. 7, 2000, memo that lawyers in the governor’s office sent to Bush, briefing him on the circumstances of Jones’ pending execution. The four-page memo doesn’t mention Jones’ request for DNA testing. Rather, it describes the disputed hair evidence as “testimony from a chemist employed by DPS that the hair samples taken from the crime scene matched those taken from Jones.”

The memo from the general counsel’s office concludes, “At this time, I do not recommend that a reprieve be granted.” Jones was executed a few hours later.

But the strand of hair survived, tucked away in a box in the San Jacinto County courthouse for years.

In fall 2007, the Observer, the national Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Texas and the Texas Innocence Network filed a lawsuit to obtain the hair for DNA testing.

The county district attorney’s office fought release of the hair sample and announced its intention to destroy it. But in June 2010, Judge Paul Murphy ruled in favor of the Observer and the innocence groups, and ordered prosecutors to turn over the remaining hair evidence for DNA testing.

Anti-death penalty advocates had hoped that the Jones case would provide the first-ever DNA exoneration of an executed person. While quite a few death penalty cases have been called into question, including several in Texas, no executed prisoners have been proven innocent by DNA testing, widely considered the most reliable form of forensic evidence.

Instead, Jones' case now falls into the category of a highly questionable execution—a case that may not have resulted in a conviction were it tried with modern forensic science. In that respect, it's much like the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in 2004 for starting a house fire that killed his three children. Fire scientists now say the arson evidence used to convict Willingham was flawed. (The Forensic Science Commission will continue its investigation of the Willingham case at hearing on Nov. 19.)

Still, the revelations in the Jones case raise more questions about how Texas administers the ultimate form of punishment.

“My father never claimed to be a saint, but he always maintained that he didn’t commit this murder,” said Claude Jones’ son, Duane, in a statement released by the Innocence Project. Duane Jones didn’t know his father growing up and met Claude Jones when he was on death row. “Knowing that these DNA results support his innocence means so much to me, my son in the military and the rest of my family. I hope these results will serve as a wakeup call to everyone that serious problems exist in the criminal justice system that must be fixed if our society is to continue using the death penalty.”

Monday, November 08, 2010

Death Row backers blind to injustice (Anthony Graves - Texas)

Posted originally on Saturday, 11.06.10
In My Opinion


A few days ago, Anthony Graves called his mother and asked what she was cooking for dinner. She asked why he wanted to know. He said, “Because I’m coming home.”

Maybe it sounds like an unremarkable exchange. But Anthony Graves had spent 18 years behind bars, 12 on Death Row, for the 1992 murder of an entire family, including four children, in the Texas town of Somerville. It wasn’t until that day, Oct. 27, that the district attorney’s office finally accepted what he’d been saying two decades: He’s innocent.

So the news that Graves would be home for dinner was the very antithesis of unremarkable. His mother, he told a news conference the next day, couldn’t believe it. “I couldn’t believe I was saying it,” he added.

Graves’ release came after his story appeared in Texas Monthly magazine ( The article by Pamela Colloff detailed how he was convicted even though no physical evidence tied him to the crime, even though he had no motive to kill six strangers, even though three witnesses testified he was home at the time of the slaughter.

The case against Graves rested entirely upon jailhouse denizens who claimed they’d heard him confess and upon one Robert Carter, who admitted committing the crime but initially blamed Graves. Carter, executed in 2000, recanted that claim repeatedly, most notably to District Attorney Charles Sebesta the day before Sebesta put him on the stand to testify against Graves. Defense attorneys say Sebesta never shared that exculpatory tidbit with them, even though required to do so.


Colloff’s story drew outraged media attention, including from yours truly. But the attention that mattered was that of the current DA, Bill Parham, who undertook his own investigation. He was unequivocal in explaining his decision to drop charges. ‘‘There’s not a single thing that says Anthony Graves was involved in this case,” he said. “There is nothing.”

One hopes people who love the death penalty are taking note. So often, their arguments in favor of that barbarous frontier relic seem to take place in some alternate universe where cops never fabricate evidence and judges never make mistakes, where lawyers are never inept and witnesses never commit perjury. So often, they behave as if in this one critical endeavor, unlike in every other endeavor, human beings somehow get it right every time.

I would not have convicted Anthony Graves of a traffic violation on the sort of evidence Sebesta offered. Yet somehow, a jury in Texas convicted him of murder and sent him to die.

When you pin them on it, people who love the death penalty often retreat into sophistic nonsense. Don’t end the death penalty, someone told me, just enact safeguards to ensure the innocent are never sentenced. Yeah, right. Show me the safeguard that guarantees perfection.


Those who propose to tinker with the death penalty until it is foolproof remind me of the addict attempting to negotiate with his addiction, desperately proffering minor concessions that will allow him to continue indulging in this thing that is killing him. But there comes a day when you simply have to kick the habit.

As a nation, we are stubbornly addicted to the death penalty, strung out on exacting retribution and calling it justice. Even though we know innocent men and women have surely died as a result.

Or, like Anthony Graves, been robbed of irreplaceable years. He was 26 when he was arrested. He is 45 now. When he made that call home to his mother, he borrowed his lawyer’s cellphone.

The lawyer had to show him how to use it.

Read more: here

PLEASE be SURE to read the post just placed here below (also for Monday) by Susanne...

For Elie Wiesel, death penalty is not the answer

By Karen Florin, published in The Day on 10/27/2010

Holocaust survivor believes murderers must be harshly punished, but not executed

Dr. William Petit did not attend Elie Wiesel's lecture on capital punishment at Wesleyan University Tuesday, but for a few minutes the Nazi death camp survivor spoke as if the man who lost his wife and daughters in the Cheshire home invasion was his only audience.

"Your wound is open," Wiesel said. "It will remain. You are mourning, and how can I not feel the pain of your mourning? But death is not the answer."

The 82-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, author and human rights activist said that if the death penalty could bring back the victims, maybe he would change his stance. He did allow that murderers should be punished more harshly than other prisoners.

"They should get hard labor," he said.

"Death is not the answer" became the refrain for Wiesel as he wondered aloud what could be done to help survivors of violent crimes "so that families will not feel cheated by the law."

The Romanian native spoke with authority, having lost both parents and a sister in the Nazi death camps. He escaped Buchenwald in April 1945 when it was liberated by soldiers from the U.S. Army's Sixth Armored Division.

"I know," he said. "I know the pain of those who survive. Believe me, I know."

Wiesel spoke in the university's Memorial Chapel, which was packed with about 400 students, professors and invited guests. In simple, lyrical language that carried the lilt of his Eastern European beginnings, he defended his anti-death position using stories from the past.

In the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, the two sons of Adam, Cain is said to have asked God, after he had killed his brother and God wondered about Abel's whereabouts, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

"I think it wanted to teach us that whoever kills, kills his brother," Wiesel said.

In Israel, where there is no capital punishment, the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1960 posed a dilemma. Should someone who engineered millions of deaths be executed?

"Luckily, they didn't ask my opinion," Wiesel said, eliciting laughter.

Eichmann was hanged in 1962, but he was an exception.

"The law remains the law," Wiesel said. "Terrorists came in, killed hundreds of people, not one of them was executed."

Wiesel's hour-long speech was punctuated with two standing ovations from students and visitors who had snapped up tickets within hours of an announcement that he would visit. Near the end of the lecture, someone asked, "What will happen when there are no more Holocaust survivors?"

Wiesel said he hopes he is not the last to die. He also said the Holocaust would not be forgotten.

"I do believe with all my heart," he said, "that to listen to a survivor, to listen to a witness, is to become a witness."

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Connect with Texas, Journey and Death Pen Issues

Help us keep turning a DEAD END into Hope, Life and a BETTER WAY....

"Once again, we met murder victim family members at a First Unitarian Church event tonight. It seems that everywhere we go to speak, there are witnesses of the violence that spreads in Texas..."

Read more of this and other posts by Gilles here

We've ALMOST reached our fundraising Goal..and of course have accrued more expenses along the way - not to mention supporting the token partial cost of expenses for our trips and the speaking of the exonerated who never received compensation for their long haul injustly on death us go ALL the way here and here

For ALL the following, connect via Texas Journey of Hope 2010 and the other URLS in the Right Column--only a CLICK away)...Do let others know about our unique movement...

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David Kaczynski: Unabomber's Brother Campaigns Against Death Penalty

Friday, October 22, 2010 Quick Summary:
Texas Execution

Texas carried out its 17th execution of the year - the state's 464th execution since 1982; the 225th in the administration of Governor Rick Perry. Texas has far and away the most active death chamber in America, accounting for more than 37% of the nation's post-Furman executions.

To date, there have been 43 executions in the nation in 2010, and 1,231 executions since 1977. According to TDCJ, one more execution is scheduled in Texas during 2010, on December 1. One execution date has already been set for 2011.

...Between 1924 and 1964, 361 human beings were executed by electrocution.There were no executions between 1964 and 1982. No executions…In 1982, executions resumed following new capital punishment laws passed by the State of Texas, among them changing the method of execution to lethal injection. Since 1982, 463 individuals have been executed by lethal injection.In total since 1819, 1,214 human beings (all but six of whom have been men) have been executed in Texas as of 17 August 2010. This obviously does not include the victims of savage lynchings.1,214 human beings officially liquidated since 1819. How much more blood and violence until Texas realizes that the death penalty does not solve crime? (Text thanx to Gilles!)

Karl Keys at Capital Defense Weekly and Death Penalty Information Center as well as many other online venues such as National Coalition Against the Death Penalty and Rick Halperin's Death Penalty News and Updates also note execution dates in Texas and other states. Most of these provide free updates upon request...or can be easily found online...

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Monday, November 01, 2010

TEXAS: Anthony Graves on Forgiveness and the Present Moment

Michael Paulsen Chronicle

“I’m sorry,” Roy Rueter told Anthony Graves at a news conference Thursday that marked Graves’ release after 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t do. Rueter said prosecutors misled him, and he testified against his friend at trial.

Sun Oct 31, 2010 14:34

Barbecue, Bearhugs and No Looking Back
First full day as free man finds Graves praying it's not just a dream
Oct. 28, 2010, 11:24PM

Anthony Graves spent his first full day of freedom in almost two decades eating barbecued ribs, visiting with happy supporters who had diligently pressed his case and insisting to all who cared that he bore no malice toward those who railroaded him onto Texas' death row for a crime in which authorities now say he had no part.

Graves said he was enjoying just soaking in the free world, which he had not seen since August 1992, and praying that it was not merely a dream that would end with the sharp clank of heavy cell door or a painful twinge from a hard steel bunk.

"It's still a surreal moment for me," Graves told reporters Thursday, calmly entertaining every question with a smile. "I've tried to understand as best I could what I'm feeling, but I still haven't been able to. … I was going through my own personal hell for 18 years, then one day I walk out."

Graves, 45, was released Wednesday from Burleson County Jail, where he has been for the last four years awaiting retrial, after prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss capital murder charges arising from the brutal killing of a family, including four children, in Somerville. Those prosecutors followed the dismissal with an angry denunciation of the former district attorney, Charles Sebesta, whom they claim fabricated evidence and intimidated witnesses.

Graves, however, said he intends to stay positive, move on with his life and devote his time to helping others.

No energy for anger

He had a simple description for the 12 years he spent on death row: "Hell. Whatever your description of hell is, that's what it is. I don't even need to elaborate."

Graves said repeatedly that he was not angry at the people responsible for his conviction.

"I'm not going to give them that kind of energy," he said. "I gave them 18 years. I just have to give that to God. I'm ready to live now."

Graves said the love and support of people who came forward to help him kept him going over the years. He especially thanked St. Thomas University journalism professor Nicole Casarez and a handful of her students whose investigative work gave momentum to the effort to get his conviction overturned.

"I never lost hope, because once you lose hope, you're a dead man walking," Graves said. "I wasn't just going to lay down and die. I knew that one day it would come to this — I just didn't know what day."

Graves said that immediately after his release he rode a "roller coaster of emotions" and cried "because of the wrong that had been done to me." But he said he had no real animosity toward Robert Carter, the actual killer who had named him as an accomplice and testified against him at trial before recanting prior to his execution in 2000.

"I never really knew him," he said of Carter. "I don't have any feelings toward him today because I think that for the most part they manipulated him, too, so I can't even speak to that."

Others rail at injustice

If Graves seemed indifferent toward those who sent him to prison, attorney Katherine Scardino expressed the same outrage voiced by Bill Parham, the current district attorney for Washington and Burleson counties, and Kelly Siegler, a onetime assistant DA in Harris County. Scardino, like Siegler, had been brought in for Graves' scheduled retrial in 2011 after a federal appeals court overturned his conviction.

"I have never seen such blatant injustice to another human being as what was done to Anthony Graves in this case," said Scardino.

She also was indignant that a different set of prosecutors had offered Graves a life sentence a year ago in lieu of another trial. She said no one seemed interested in looking afresh at the evidence - or lack of it - and that if they had, Graves might have been freed long ago. Scardino relayed the offer to her client, confident that he would reject it and pleased when he did.

"How am I going to do a life sentence knowing that I'm innocent?" Graves said. "I always told my attorneys that I didn't want no plea bargain. They were either going to free me or kill me. I couldn't betray my family and stand in front of judge and plead guilty to something I didn't do. You have to stand for something in this world."

Graves arrived at the mid-afternoon news conference at Scardino's office fresh from a barbecue restaurant.

Slowly he worked his way into the conference room, one hug at a time. There were family members he hadn't seen in the 22 hours since he walked out of jail, as well as lawyers and students who had worked for his release.

He stopped as he came across 36-year-old Michael Rueter, who was a teenager when they last met.

"Oh, you grew up on me," Graves told the tearful Rueter.

And then came Rueter's father, who'd been a friend before testifying against Graves at his 1994 trial after first putting up money for his defense.

"I'm sorry," Roy Rueter said.

"It was not your fault," Graves assured him, opening his arms for another hug. "You were manipulated. It happens to the best of us."

Faces from his past

Graves had been employed at Rueter's family business in Brenham at the time of his arrest. The men played softball together, and Graves served communion at Roy Rueter's wedding. Rueter said he had come to the office just for the chance to see his friend walk free.

He had been persuaded to testify against Graves, believing prosecutors when they said a cheap knife Rueter had given Graves was a match for the wounds on one of the slain children.

He said he realized he had been misled in 1996 after being contacted by an investigator working for Graves' first appellate lawyer.

"It made me physically ill," Rueter said. "No excuse for betraying a friend."

After the news conference, Graves said Texas' criminal justice system makes convictions and death sentences too easy to obtain. He said the public should demand more accountability from prosecutors and greater scrutiny of evidence.

"People don't realize it can happen to them, but we are all vulnerable," he said. "I never thought about the death penalty for two seconds. I didn't live that kind of life."

Graves said he wanted to work on behalf of those who have been wrongfully convicted, though as yet he has no specific plans. He said the state's "flawed system" leaves him with no doubt that there are others on death row not guilty of the crimes that sent them there.

Jeannie Kever contributed to this report.



Anthony Graves story - in significant ways and attitudes of forgiveness - remind me of Ed Chapman's story...North Carolina, similarly, has lots of problems with labs...

See the Journey of Hope posts here here

WATCH for more on the Texas Journey of Hope - 2010 which just soon we should be receiving some photos and articles to post. Gilles had to suddenly return home unexpectedly. What amazing timing JOURNEY was there with our own Journey Family of Exonerated just as Anthony Graves was freed.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Short & Moving from Gilles

October 20 – Texas Journey in Dallas!

An activist uses any opportunity to raise awareness. As I was waiting for my flight, I met an Iranian-American man and we talked about capital punishment.

Continue reading → here

Any Texas articles on Journey of Hope? If so, help us out while Gilles and the Journey Family are occupied and send them our way as Comment. We will need your name...first is ok.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

JUST IN: Freed death row inmate - Anthony Graves - speaks out----Texas inmate on death row for 18 years freed

Untitled Internet Cache from an Anthony Graves site

OCTOBER 28, 2010 The following is courtesy of Dr. Rick Halperin's Death Pen. News and updates - This is such big news that I trust you won't find a longer post than usual. For more from his site keep watching here

Prosecutors blast former DA who handled Graves case

Prosecutors today blasted Charles Sebesta, the former district attorney for Washington and Burleson counties, accusing him of hiding evidence and tampering, then threatening witnesses to convict Anthony Graves of capital murder in 1994.

Graves was released from jail Wednesday after spending 18 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

Answering questions about the release today, Kelly Siegler, a special prosecutor working for District Attorney Bill Parham, said the case was "horrible."

"Charles Sebasta handled this case in a way that could best be described as a criminal justice system’s nightmare," Siegler said. "It’s a travesty, what happened in Anthony Graves' trial."

Sebesta responded to the allegations today and maintained that Graves is guilty.

"I would not have tried him if I didn't believe he was guilty," Sebesta said.

Siegler said Sebesta indicted a woman without any evidence, fabricated evidence, manipulated witnesses and took advantage of victims.

Siegler said it "absolutely" was prosecutorial misconduct.

"The worst I've ever seen," she said.

Sebesta flatly denied any misconduct and responded to each allegation leveled at him by Siegler and Parham.

Siegler and the current district attorney spoke during a press conference this morning with investigator Otto Haneck and Texas Rangers Sgt. Andres De La Garza.

Graves was sent to death row for being 1 of 2 men who brutally killed a Somerville family, including 2 adults and 4 children.

Graves was convicted of assisting Robert Earl Carter in the slaying of Bobbie Davis, 45; her 16-year-old daughter, Nicole; and Davis’ four grandchildren, ages 4 to 9, on Aug. 18, 1992.

The home was then set ablaze.

Carter was executed in 2000. 2 weeks before his death, he provided a sworn statement saying that his naming of Graves as an accomplice was a lie.

He first gave investigators Graves' name days after the murders because he knew Graves was not there and could easily provide an alibi for himself, Siegler said.

She said Sebesta threatened the woman with whom Graves was asleep with when the murder occurred by saying in open court that she was a suspect in the slayings.

Sebesta said it was hardly a threat when he alerted the court that she should be advised of her rights to not incriminate herself because she was a suspect.

Seigler said Sebesta indicted Carter's wife, Teresa, without any evidence.

Sebesta said a grand jury returned the indictment after hearing that Teresa Carter had a burn on her shoulder.

Robert Carter had facial burns, which first made him a suspect because the house had been set on fire.

Sebesta also threatened Robert Earl Carter with pursuing a conviction against his wife to make him testify against Graves, Sielger said.

Sebesta denied that he had a conversation with Carter like that.

Sebesta has never believed Carter’s recantations, which began 2 days after he first gave it to police.

Sebesta retired 12 years ago. In 2009, he took out ads in 2 Burleson County newspapers calling Graves "cold-blooded" to dispute critical media reports.

"Go back and look at the evidence," Sebesta said. "He was convicted by a jury."

He said allegations of prosecutorial misconduct were "really stretching."

"I just don't see it," he said.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Graves’ conviction in 2006. A three-judge panel said he deserved a new trial after ruling that prosecutors elicited false statements from two witnesses and withheld two statements that could have changed the minds of jurors.

Since that ruling there were at least 2 special prosecutors before it has handed to Parham.

Graves eventually was returned to county jail with a bond set at $1 million, and Parham began to investigate. He hired Siegler, a former Harris County assistant district attorney, as a special prosecutor.

Siegler said Sebasta was interviewed and that he could not be convinced of Graves' innocence.

Parham said he believes there was a 2nd man involved in the murder, but that Graves "unequivocally was not one of them."

(source: Houston Chronicle)


Freed death row inmate speaks out----Texas inmate on death row for 18 years freed

A former inmate who spent 18 years on death row spoke out for the first time since his release.

Anthony Graves was released from the county jail in Brenham Wednesday after the DA dropped all murder charges against him. Graves, 45, was convicted of assisting Robert Carter in the murders of a woman, her teenage daughter and her four grandchildren in Somerville in 1992.

On Thursday afternoon, Graves held a press conference and said he was ready to rebuild his life.

"I'm ready to live, be among my family and friends. Put my life back together," Graves said.

When asked how he felt being a free man, Graves responded, "For the first few moments, first few hours, I thought that I would wake up back in the cell, it's not real to me. It's still not real to me."

After 18 years in prison, Graves said he never gave up hope.

"I had a lot of love and support, but knowing that I was innocent, there were some things I wasn't going to give them. I refuse to give them my hope and belief in myself," Graves said. "I knew I was innocent. I wasn't going to lay down and die for something they did wrong."

His lawyer, Katherine Scardino, put much of the blame of convicting an innocent man on prosecutors and investigators at the time.

"The idea that they would offer life to him a year ago is pretty amazing. I don't believe anybody investigated anything since 1992," said Scardino. "I don't believe I have ever seen such injustice."

Graves went on to say that he wants to help people in a similar situation.

"I'm going to create my own future. Doing something positive. I think this is the opportunity to help someone," he said. "I'd like to be an advocate for justice."

He said he spent his 1st day as a free man eating ribs and taking it all in, and that he kept messing up while trying to use a cell phone for the 1st time.

New details emerge

Graves' brother says he always knew he was innocent. Arthur Curry, told us he was sleeping in the same house with Graves the night of the murders, and it was that information, along with additional research by investigators as well as special prosecutor and former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Siegler, which won Graves a new trial.

In a news conference, Siegler blasted former DA Charles Sebesta, saying he encouraged Ronald Carter to lie on the stand and grossly mishandled this case. It would all eventually lead to the charges being dropped altogether.

Washington-Burleson County District Attorney Bill Parham filed the motion, dismissing the charges against death row inmate Anthony Graves.

He'd been in prison for 18 years, convicted of the mass murder of a Somerville family in 1992, during which the victims' home was also set on fire.

Graves maintained his innocence and Parham, who was not the DA at the time, now agrees with him.

"We did shift from the possibility of maybe we don't have sufficient evidence to we have no evidence to the fact that we may have an innocent man," said Parham. "It's kind of a rare situation where prosecutors without the use of DNA or any other type of evidence that dispels guilt looks at a case and says, 'There's no evidence. This man is not guilty.'"

"Charles Sebesta handled this case in a way that would be best described as a criminal justice system's nightmare," said Siegler.

Eyewitness News spoke with Graves' brother and mother at their Brenham home on Wednesday night, just a short time after Graves' family greeted him. They say there have been feelings of bitterness along the way, but now there's joy, and his freedom has been a long time coming.

"We just have to get back to starting all over again. We have to start all over again because he can't get back what he lost; that's 18 years he lost," said Doris Curry, Graves' mother.

As for former DA Sebesta, he retired 12 years ago, and we have not had opportunity yet to seek his response to what was said in the news conference.

Graves will now be eligible to get more than a million dollars from the state because of his wrongful imprisonment.

(source: KTRK-TV News)

Hope you don't mind a few more?

*Update*Anthony Graves and His Attorney To Hold (held) News Conference About Graves Release Newly released from prison Anthony Graves and his attorney will hold (held) a joint news conference in Houston at 2pm Thursday.

DA Bill Parham to Speak at News Conference here

After enduring 'hell,' Graves looks ahead: At a news conference on Thursday, former death row inmate Anthony Graves says he's ready to move on with his life after being wrongly imprisoned for 18 years.

here Texas death row inmate freed after prosecutors drop capital murder charges in 1992 slaying of family

Anthony Graves had been convicted of helping Robert Earl Carter kill six people in Somerville in 1992. Graves' conviction was based solely on Carter's testimony, which Carter recanted shortly before he was executed for the crime in 1998. Dallas News
(Which by the way would be a great place to look for more stories breaking on this event. Also, please go to the Texas Journey 2010 site since THEY ARE THERE...)