Friday, April 30, 2010

Honest debate needed on the death penalty

by Kristin Froehlich, published in The Middletown Press

A recent Associated Press article that was published in this paper and others across the state focused on the role the death penalty will play in the upcoming elections. Elections are the last place where an honest discussion of the death penalty can occur. As someone who has personal experience with the death penalty, I know that capital punishment in Connecticut — especially in terms of how it affects murder victims’ families — is complicated and nuanced.

My younger brother, David, was 22 when he was murdered in Connecticut. David and four of his friends were brutally murdered by his landlord before he burnt down the house to hide the evidence. David was identified by dental records.

This quintuple homicide shocked and hurt not just my family, but our entire community. The prosecutors sought the death penalty. Because it was a death-penalty case, it took much more time and money than a non-death penalty case. It also exacted a huge emotional cost on family members. We had no say about whether or not to impose the death penalty. We waited three years for the trial to begin. The killer was ultimately sentenced to life without parole.

Had David’s killer been sentenced to death, even now, 15 years later, I would likely still be caught up in the legal process, waiting and waiting for an execution that, let’s face it, might never happen in Connecticut. The media would cover every appeal, giving undeserved attention to the killer. The life without parole sentence David’s killer received allowed me to begin my journey toward healing unencumbered by worries about the killer’s fate.

For the vast majority of murder victims’ families in Connecticut, the death penalty is not a factor in the legal process. In 1995, the year David was murdered, there were 150 murders in Connecticut, and no offender was sentenced to death. That’s pretty typical. In the last 30 years, Connecticut has placed 11 men on death row, has executed only one person, and did that only after he forfeited appeals and begged to have his life taken by the state.

The fact that the death penalty touches so few lives is the first way in which it does a disservice to victims. The death penalty necessarily divides victims between those who are worthy of a death-penalty case and those who are not. These distinctions are incredibly disrespectful to victims’ families and a source of great pain. And since the vast majority of murderers will not face the death penalty, it is inaccurate and hurtful to act as if the death penalty is a real solution for murder victims’ families.

By focusing on the death penalty as a solution for victims, the state fails to address the real needs of victims’ families. What victims’ families like mine need in the wake of a terrible tragedy is respect, support and honesty. We need time and energy to grieve and heal. Some of us need professional counseling help. Some need financial assistance. We all want to feel safe in our communities.

We do not need controversial sentencing that tells us some murders are more heinous than others. We do not need unnecessarily-long and publicized trials. We do not need the false promise that an external act, such as an execution, could ever bring real justice or the ridiculous term, “closure”

What makes our over-simplified reliance on the death penalty harmful, instead of simply misguided, is the fact that the death penalty in Connecticut is so expensive. The state spends millions of dollars above and beyond what it would cost to enact life without the possibility of release. These funds would be much better invested in services for victims’ families and programs to make society safer.

We must not gloss over the unintended consequences the death penalty can have on the very families we want to help. I hope that, as we head into election season, candidates will put aside the rhetoric on this important issue. Our elected officials and those aspiring to higher office must honestly evaluate the death penalty and its host of effects. And if they do this, what they will find is that the death penalty in Connecticut is a disservice to victims’ families.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Attack survivor wants condemned Ohio killer spared

by Andrew Welsh-Huggins
posted in the Miami Herald

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Bruce Graham was driving to Cincinnati one day in June 1983 when he stopped to pick up a hitchhiker carrying a red gas can. The traveler, Michael Beuke, pulled out a gun, ordered Graham to drive him to a secluded area, then shot him as soon as Graham stopped the car.

Almost three decades later, as Beuke faces execution next month for a related fatal shooting, Graham has forgiven his attacker and wants him spared.

"I do not think one more life taken at this point would solve anything," Graham said in a letter to the Ohio Parole Board earlier this month.

It's rare, but not unheard of, for family members of murder victims to ask for mercy for condemned killers. Graham's is a more unusual gesture, in part because few victims of condemned inmates survive to make such requests.

Graham says he came to his conclusion after meeting Beuke face-to-face in prison last month.

"I wanted to know if he was reformed and had been rehabilitated," Graham said in his letter. "After meeting him and seeing him in person, I could tell he was sincere in his apology."

Relatives of Beuke's other victims aren't so forgiving. Susan Craig, whose husband, Robert, was shot and killed by Beuke June 1, 1983, said he took away her best friend.

"Michael Beuke should not be granted clemency," she told the parole board. "He should never be allowed to walk with people again."

Gregory Wahoff, who also survived an attack by Beuke but was seriously wounded, spent the rest of his life mostly paralyzed and in a wheelchair. He died in 2006 at age 51. His widow, JoAnn Walhoff, told the board Beuke shouldn't be spared.

The board ruled unanimously against mercy for Beuke, saying the brutality of his crimes outweighed his personal and spiritual growth behind bars.

Graham, of Rising Sun, Ind., has an unlisted phone number and did not respond to a letter seeking comment.

Several Roman Catholic ministers and other prison volunteers say Beuke is a changed man who has become a model prisoner and is extremely remorseful for his crimes.

Gov. Ted Strickland has the final say for Beuke, who is scheduled to die May 13.

In Florida, SueZann Bosler fought against the death sentence that James Campbell received for stabbing to death her father, the Rev. Billy Bosler, in 1986. Campbell also stabbed SueZann Bosler five times but she survived by playing dead. Campbell's death sentence was overturned and he's now serving life in prison.

Bosler, 47, knew her father was opposed to capital punishment and had once told her if he were murdered he wouldn't want a death sentence for his killer.

Though she fought for his release from death row, Bosler said it took several years to truly feel she forgave Campbell. She felt unexpected freedom when she did.

"I was finally letting myself live life again after that moment," said Bosler, of Hollywood, Fla.

Many family members of murder victims forgive perpetrators to let go of their anger and move on with their lives, said Beth Wood, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation.

That doesn't always mean they oppose a death sentence, since people differ over how to hold perpetrators accountable, Wood said.

For people like Graham and Bosler, "What distinguishes them is they don't understand how the death penalty is going to fulfill any of their needs," Wood said.

In Indiana in the 1980s, Bill Pelke led successful efforts to spare Paula Cooper, sentenced to die for stabbing Pelke's grandmother to death in her Gary home in 1985.

In Illinois, sisters of murder victim Nancy Bishop Langert pushed to abolish the death penalty. In Texas, relatives of Andrew Lastrapes Jr. unsuccessfully opposed the 2004 execution of his killer, Dominique Green.

In Ohio in 2002, family members of Emily Murray, a Kenyon College student shot by a pizza shop co-worker, asked unsuccessfully that her killer receive a life sentence to spare the family further pain.

In 2009, Strickland spared Jeffrey Hill, who robbed and killed his mother in a cocaine-induced rage, after Hill's relatives pleaded for mercy.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Frank Sterling, free to walk into the arms of family & friends!

Frank Sterling Photo credit goes to the following source: GO here for story, slide show and video...


From The Innocence Project:

Frank Sterling is a free man today for the first time in 18 years. DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project proved that he was wrongfully convicted, and Sterling walked out of a Rochester, New York, courthouse into the arms of family and friends just a few minutes ago.

His freedom was made possible by the support of hundreds of people who stood up against injustice by making a small donation to help pay for DNA testing and complex legal representation in his case and others.

Unfortunately the injustice suffered by Frank Sterling is all too common in our country — he is the 253rd person exonerated through DNA evidence and he will not be the last.

Sterling, who had no prior criminal record, was convicted based solely on a false confession he gave after a 36-hour trucking shift followed by 12 hours in police custody for interrogation. DNA testing implicates Mark Christie as the actual perpetrator. He is already serving a life sentence for murdering his four-year-old neighbor in 1994 — a crime that could have been prevented if police had not focused on Frank Sterling during the investigation.

It took nearly two decades of appeals for Sterling to finally get the DNA tests that would set him free. In January, DNA tests obtained by the Innocence Project excluded Sterling from multiple pieces of crime scene evidence, and were consistent with Christie’s profile in two key areas. Christie then confessed, offering facts about the crime that were not publicly available and were corroborated by other evidence.

Frank Sterling’s 18-year nightmare is finally at an end and he can begin to build a new life. The Innocence Project’s social work team will help him get his feet on the ground, and support from our Exoneree Fund will help provide him with immediate necessities.

We have more than 250 active clients today, and another prisoner will take Frank Sterling’s place on our docket. There’s a potential for DNA to prove these people innocent, but it takes hundreds of hours of legal work and expensive lab tests to set them free...

Find Out More:

The Innocence Project — Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
100 Fifth Ave. 3rd Floor - New York, NY 10011 or GO here

Lessons from Death Row (Curtis McCarty - from prison to leading opponent of cap. punishment)

Curtis McCarty who is more qualified than most - regarding the need to abolish the death penalty - holds sign;
Scott Langley, photographer

Find Original article here

From: K. Bandell
To: William Pelke
Sent: Sunday, April 25, 2010 4:55 PM

...with thanks for your becoming a good friend to Mister McCarty and to many peace.....


Lessons from death row

From a distance, Curtis McCarty looks every bit the tough guy. He is compact and muscular, with a buzz haircut and a penchant for frequent cigarette breaks.

But when he gets up to talk in front of a crowd, as he did March 14 at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Anchorage, a soft-spoken and thoughtful person emerges — a man who spent 19 years on death row for a crime he didn't commit.

McCarty is now a leading opponent of capital punishment.

Although exonerated by DNA testing, McCarty, who was sponsored on a speaking tour to Alaska by Alaskans Against the Death Penalty, has never quite exonerated himself from the bad choices he made in life.

"At 15, I started taking drugs and drinking, ditching school, carousing. I had an addictive personality and everything was a 'yes' or 'no' proposition with me. I became alienated from my family and my church. I felt there was nothing wrong, and refused to listen to anybody who tried to stop the chaos in my life."

The murdered girl – for whom he eventually went to death row — was a sometime-friend in the gang of drinkers and druggies with whom he hung. He mourned her death, and when called in by police, along with most of his cronies, he went willingly, providing everything they asked voluntarily – hair, blood, saliva. He took a polygraph. He wanted the murder solved as much as anyone.

"The man who killed Pam left a wealth of information behind that would incriminate him," said McCarty, but little of it, including a bloody footprint and finger prints on a window sill, were ever used.

Meanwhile, McCarty returned to his lifestyle.

"I failed to learn any lesson about how I lived my life or how Pam lived hers. I spent 3 more years in a lifestyle of addiction and petty crime."

And then, suddenly, McCarty was arrested.

"Despite my predicament, I still wasn't afraid. I had time to sober up, and I remembered all those things I'd learned — that we're a nation of laws, we have a Bill of Rights, that my hopes lie in a fair trial. But by the 2nd day of my trial, I knew I'd be found guilty."

Besides the murderer, who has never been found, the other questionable aspect of the case involved a forensics expert who was later placed under investigation for allegedly reporting false forensic results in other cases. At the close of the investigation, she was fired due to forensic fraud committed in several cases.

Although she had earlier written that a hair sample found did not match McCarty’s DNA, later she changed her statement, but the hair sample mysteriously disappeared.

The Innocence Project, a national program to investigate death row convictions, secured testing in 2002 on additional DNA recovered from the victim’s body, which did not match McCarty. Along with the discovery of the earlier hair sample opinion, this provided evidence to free him.

The years spent on death row, however, gave McCarty insights into incarceration.

"I'd heard my whole life about atrocities, brutal and savage men in prison. That's not what I found," he said. "I found young men, teens. No one had ever intervened in their lives. Most had killed, but not deliberately or with planning. Yes, there were some violent and predatory men."

"You had to make friends,” he added, and that was the cruelest thing, he said of death row.

"You came to know those men and watched them mature, come to terms, try to make amends, and then watch them die, one after another over the years," McCarty said.

His toughest memory is of packing up his best friend's property and being with him when he was placed in chains for his trip to the death chamber.

The experience convinced McCarty that the American justice system should concentrate on "restorative justice," rather than the current punitive philosophy.

Since his exoneration, McCarty is doing what he can to help the anti-death penalty movement. Raised a Baptist, he has deepened his faith, and although he has not converted to Catholicism, he does participate in the prayer and worship of the Sant'Egidio community, a lay-based Catholic group.

His friend and mentor, Alaskans Against the Death Penalty board member Bill Pelke has even taken McCarty to Rome for Sant'Egidio events.

Alaskans Against the Death Penalty has mobilized several speakers to rally against a proposed Alaska House bill, which would institute the death penalty in Alaska. The bill, which is opposed by Alaska's Catholic bishops, shows little sign of progress.

(source: Ministry Values)

To find out more about the Sant'Egidio Community GO here and GO here

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

May 3-12: North Carolina Events: David Kaczynski and Bill Babbitt


Death Penalty Events in NC
April 26, 2010

From Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation:

My Brother’s Keeper: What Would You Do if You Suspected Your Brother of Murder?

David Kaczynski, brother of “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, and Bill Babbitt, brother of executed Marine veteran and Purple Heart recipient Manny Babbitt will tell their stories of personal courage and family tragedy throughout eastern North Carolina from May 3-12, 2010.

May 3 – Raleigh (First Baptist Church)
May 4 – Goldsboro (Herman Park Center)
May 5 – Kinston (St. Augustus AME Zion Church)
May 6 – Greenville (St. Paul’s Episcopal Church)
May 7 – Jacksonville (First Missionary Baptist Church)
May 8 – Wilmington (Martin Luther King, Jr. Center)
May 10 – Wilson (Wilson Community College, also speaking – Marie Verzulli, sister of a murder victim)
May 11 – Rocky Mount (Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, also speaking – Marie Verzulli, sister of a murder victim)

(all events start at 7:00 PM)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Help Stop Bustamante Execution (Scheduled for Tues April 27th ) See More Spring thru Fall Updates

" Committed to the Fight for Human-Rights " (And to End the Death Penalty)

See execution alert and suggested actions below...

*State-administered death is always a greater horror than any other by virtue of the methodical reasoning that precedes it. French philosopher Albert Camus wrote that "capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal's deed, however calculated, can be compared. "For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date on which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not to be encountered in private life."*

"You can’t have it both ways. A commitment to oppose the death penalty cannot be conditional upon who is the victim or who is to be executed. Conditional opposition is no opposition at all."

Samuel Bustamante is scheduled to be executed on April 27
Sun Apr 25, 2010 16:23

Appeal for Clemency for Samuel Bustamante

Samuel Bustamante is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas on April 27, 2010. He was convicted and sentenced to death for the fatal stabbing of 27-year-old Rafael Alvarado of Richmond in 1998. Bustamante's attorney is filing a clemency petition with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and is seeking letters from the public in support of the petition. Here are some talking points for your letters, from information provided by the attorneys:

-Express concerns that Samuel Bustamante received inadequate representation from his state-appointed appellate attorney, who failed to conduct any additional investigation of his client's background and missed critical filing deadlines.
-The courts have been unable to fully consider the issues in this case because of the poor legal counsel that Bustamante received at the state habeas level.
-This case represents yet another failure of Texas' system of appointing attorneys.
-Urge the Board to correct for the rigidity of the court system by recommending clemency for Samuel Bustamante.

Please send your letters to BOTH Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles AND attorney James Rytting at (Mr. Rytting will submit them to the Board along with the clemency petition). Your letter should be addressed to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, however:

Clemency Section
Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd.
Austin, TX 78757-6814
Fax (512) 467-0945


More information on contacting the Governor and Board of Pardons and Paroles can be found here

In letters to the Governor and Board of Pardons and Parole (More Talking Points):

State your concern that executions continue to take place despite increasing public recognition of the inherent flaws and failures of the Texas death penalty system.
Express outrage and alarm at the high number of executions already scheduled to take place this year in Texas. Urge the Board of Pardons and Paroles to recommend clemency in this case.

(Note added by this Journey blogger: Be sure also to bring up the poor standard and precedence that has been set in this case and how this has and will effect other cases unless this standard is changed.)

Governor Rick Perry's Office

Citizen's Opinion Hotline: (800) 252-9600 [for Texas callers]

Information and Referral and Opinion Hotline: (512) 463-1782 [for Austin, Texas and out-of-state callers]

Board of Pardons and Paroles Phone (512) 406-5852, Fax (512) 467-0945



(Letter from our own Journey Family Member - Delia Perez Meyer - a faithful working member. Thanx for this letter, Delia. We are praying for you and your family!)

Journey of Hope coming to Cuero, Texas
Sun Apr 25, 2010 14:04

Hello Sister Elizabeth, (and all)

Good Morning !! It was wonderful to see you at death row last night; your loving, warm presence touched us all !! Please let Mr. Bustamante know that we are praying for him, his family, and the victim's family. And thank you Sister, for ministering to him. You cannot imagine how grateful we are to those of you who walk with our loved ones.

As I mentioned, the Journey of Hope will be coming to Texas in OCTOBER - we are in the early planning stages. Our fund-raising efforts are the most challenging - we need to raise the $30,000 that will be needed to successfully bring the 12 folks who will be traveling together. The dates are: October 15-31, 2010. All of you are invited to consider having us come to your city/town - we will try our best to get to everyone - here is the webpage for the JOH. (The Journey of Hope) here

Thank you for inviting the JOH to come to Cuero, Texas - we would be honored! You have helped us so much over the years - your love, your commitment and dedication to this cause is truly an inspiration. My brother, Louis and I, and so many others are so grateful. Thank You.

Please send us all the contact information for your church; and let me know what your vision for the event is. We are really looking forward to working with you again! Please take your time, I know this is a very trying time - God Bless You for taking the time with Bustamante; you are all in our thoughts and prayers. We are praying for a miracle!!

Much Love and Respect,
Delia Perez Meyer
1809 Margaret St.
Austin, TX 78704

Great Article about UNC Chapel Hill efforts to end the death penalty and other NC and National events! See if there may yet be a venue for speakers to come to your area? here Especially note the ever inspirational Ed Chapman! What a guy who never gives up. His courage, faith, goodwill and tenacity are forever encouraging!

Here are some other sites to check out for possible venues, speakers and events. And/or use these to get your own creative and organizational energy going:

here Plz add any other events or announcements we are likely to have missed to the comments below.

THANX so much for tuning in. Remember to do something to help stop Samuel Bustamante's execution!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Virginia OKs bill to let violent crime victims meet with death row inmates

Lorraine Whoberry tried for years to meet face-to-face with her daughter's killer before he was executed last month. She was repeatedly denied.

So the day after she witnessed his execution, Whoberry sat down with Gov. Bob McDonnell and asked for his help. A bill was making its way through the Virginia General Assembly that would allow victims of violent crime to meet with the perpetrators, but it excluded those on death row and juveniles.

McDonnell amended the bill to allow victims to meet with inmates on death row. On Wednesday, the General Assembly unanimously approved the change.

Although more than half of the states have victim-offender mediation programs, advocates said Virginia would be one of the first to cement it in state law. Virginia also becomes one of only a handful that allow meetings with death row inmates.

“Even though it's not going to affect us, at least we've got something done,” Whoberry said when told about the change.

Even in states that offer victim-offender meetings, “there are a thousand bureaucratic road blocks put in the way,” said Pat Nolan, vice president of Prison Fellowship, a national prison ministry.

“The system has a paternalistic view that they know better than the victim, they're trying to protect the victim,” he said. “In most cases, the victims have great difficulty getting in to see the offenders.”

Virginia's Department of Corrections routinely refuses to allow victims to meet with their attackers. A department spokesman refused to comment on the legislation, saying only that the agency supported the governor.

Currently, victims must request a meeting in writing, and requests are approved or rejected based on the type of crime committed, the inmate's behavior and security level, mental health issues and the reason for the visit. On average, the department receives 10 to 15 such requests a year, and half are approved.

But meetings with condemned inmates are forbidden.

That came as a shock to Whoberry when she was denied after her daughter's killer, Paul Warner Powell, agreed to meet with her. Powell attempted to rape her 16-year-old daughter, Stacie Reed, and then stabbed her when she fought him off in 1999. He waited for her 14-year-old sister to come home and then raped and stabbed her, but she lived.

“I was under the impression I had rights,” she said. “But I keep finding out I don't. The offender has more rights than we do.”

Powell's attorney, Jonathan Sheldon, tried to arrange a meeting, but also was denied. In the end — a day before Powell died by electrocution March 18 — Sheldon arranged to have Whoberry and her family come to his office and talk to Powell for more than two hours over the phone.

For Whoberry, “it brought that monster into being a human being,” she said.

They talked about his newfound faith, his life in prison and how he dealt with what he had done. The family asked questions, and Whoberry said she left with a feeling of peace that had avoided her in the 11 years since her daughter Stacie's murder.

“As a victim and survivor there's things you want to say to them that only you can say to them, and they need to hear it,” Whoberry said. “They need to hear it from you.” The more serious or violent the crime, the more the victims benefit from meeting with the offender, Nolan said. Often, criminals take plea bargains. Even if they go to trial, victims often never really get their questions answered.

Supporters, including McDonnell, said the meetings could be restorative and therapeutic for both the victim and the offender.

“I think in those rare handful of cases where both agree, I think we ought to let them do it and I think it could be a good outcome,” McDonnell said.

Whoberry said the meetings are not for everyone, but that it should be an option if both the victim and the offender agree.

“I continue to be Stacie's voice,” Whoberry said. “And this time Stacie was heard.”
Source: Washington Post

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

UPDATE on GREG (Inspiring!)

Dear Friends:

If anyone has ever doubted the power of love, prayer, and positive thoughts (and maybe good genes) doubt no more. Greg is a living, breathing example that at least small miracles do still happen! I’ve been waiting to send another update because I wanted to make sure his progress was going to continue, but I think I can safely say that the advances he has made surrounded by Oklahoma caring are nothing short of remarkable. I’ve been concerned that I might be accused of being a drama queen or crying wolf, but as anyone who saw him in the hospital in Sacramento can tell you we truly did not think he would still be with us today. Actually the doctors told us he probably wouldn’t even survive the trip home (after our RV adventure it’s a miracle any of us survived!). But he did and it looks like, at least for the foreseeable future, that he’s just not ready to give up on this life.

I don’t want to sound like we’re burying our heads in the sand though. He is still in a wheel chair, but he has regained some feeling in his upper legs so he can help himself get in and out of cars and chairs. He is getting physical therapy at the nursing facility and it seems to be helping a lot. They’ve even stood him up with a walker, but he has a long way to go before he can walk. He understands that may never happen, but he zips around in his wheel chair like he owns the place. We all now have a much greater appreciation for the challenges the handicapped face going out in public, or even getting into the bathroom in a home (like mine) that isn’t handicapped accessible. His kidney function is better, but he still has serious liver disease. We don’t know what the future holds for that, but, drum roll, he says he will never drink again! I truly believe he’s sincere, but time will tell. In the meantime he’s gotten his appetite back, eats like a horse, but isn’t putting on weight which is a concern. He’s down to about 145 pounds but feels pretty good so we’ll take what we can get. We’ve taken him off of hospice because he is doing so well, but also because they are still periodically giving him blood transfusions, another concern. He’s going to have some tests run soon to see what’s causing the internal bleeding.

He’s adapted to his new situation much better than we thought he would but, of course, now that he’s lucid and actually improving he’s ready to go back to his beloved California. It was much easier when he was out of his head and thought he was on a plane flying to a speaking gig. “No Greg that isn’t snow outside the window, it’s clouds”. He understands that he is not even close to being ready ready to go yet, but we don’t want to take that hope away from him. Realistically he is exactly where he needs to be right now, and even though it’s not an ideal situation, I know that we made the right decision bringing him home. He’s able to spend time with his girls and his grand-kids, Mom and Dad, the rest of our family, and his girlfriend Judy. She has been wonderful and is taking very good care of him. I’ve attached (I hope) a picture I took of the two of them last weekend at my folks house. He has on his “Super Grandpa” shirt and is still wearing his “Do Not Resuscitate” bracelet!

Last week he and Judy drove down to my house and we all went to Norman to have lunch with Mark Barrett, Greg’s attorney, and our good friend Susan Sharp, a professor at OU. Mark is preparing to get a court date so that we can continue the fight to get Greg compensation based on “factual or actual” innocence. He’s been trying to help Greg for over 20 years and we appreciate so much all that he has already done (like getting him off death row!) and I have all the confidence in the world that he will eventually succeed in getting him compensation too. I just wish those judges would give me a chance to offer my opinion. They might grant him the compensation just to shut me up!

So that’s where we are today, but still knowing that we have to take things a day at a time. Greg is a joy to be around, clear thinking, smart and funny. It’s heartbreaking that he had to fall so far to realize that this life isn’t so bad after all. We are so grateful to everyone for all your kind and loving thoughts and words. Greg and I are so lucky to have such wonderful friends and we feel your love every day. He loves getting cards and his phone is up and running if you ever want to call.

Greg says it won’t be long before he’s ready to get back out there and continue fighting the good fight. I hope he’s right!

Love to you all,


(NOTE: for any wanting contact info with Nancy, plz contact Bill Pelke and/or leave comment with your full name and email)

Monday, April 19, 2010

15th anniversary of Oklahoma City bombing

Exactly 15 years ago a brutal attack shocked the world: the Oklahoma City bombing.

The Oklahoma City bombing was the bomb attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, when American militia movement sympathizer Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck filled with explosives parked in front of the building. McVeigh's co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, had assisted in the bomb preparation. It was the most destructive act of terrorism on American soil until the September 11, 2001 attacks, claiming 168 lives, including 19 children under the age of 6. More than 680 people were injured.

It is estimated that 646 people were inside the building when the bomb exploded.

By the end of the day of the bombing, twenty were confirmed dead, including six children, and over one hundred injured. The toll eventually reached 168 confirmed dead, not including an unmatched leg that could have belonged to a possible, unidentified 169th victim.

Most of the deaths resulted from the collapse of the building, rather than the bomb blast. Those killed included 163 who were in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, one person in the Athenian Building, one woman in a parking lot across the street, a man and woman in the Oklahoma Water Resources building, and a rescue worker struck on the head by debris.

The victims ranged in age from three months to seventy-three, not including the fetuses of three pregnant women. Of the dead, 99 worked for the federal government. Nineteen of the victims were children, fifteen of whom were in the America's Kids Day Care Center.

In January of 2008 I was in Oklahoma City and I did have some spare time, so I went to the memorial site. Until then the Oklahoma City bombing to me had been something I had heard about in the news (even in Germany!) but I had no personal ties to it. Thankfully none of my family members or friends were in the building when the bomb blew half of it away.

But walking through the memorial site really got to me as well. There were these two gates one saying 9:01, the other one 9:03 - the time right before the bombing when the world was still the way it was supposed to be and the time right after the bombing when everything had dramatically changed.

And then there is the field of empty chairs. Right were the Murrah building was standing there are 168 empty chairs right now, one for each of the victims. Each of the chairs has a name on it, 3 of them carry 2 names - it's the ones for the pregnant women. And some of the chairs are smaller than the others - the empty seats of the children who died.

A ranger told me that I could walk through this field. And even though I did not know any of the victims, I was standing in there crying....

After this I went inside the museum where lots of things from the bombing are collected, one can listen to tape recordings and you see shattered telephones, toys and other personal belongings. And although I really wanted to look at everything, I had to leave the museum really quickly - it was just too much for me to take.

I met people who really lost friends and relatives in the bombing while visiting the museum. If all of this got this much to me already, how bad must it be for these people?

Normally in this blog here we talk about the death penalty, about what the death penalty does to the society, to the victim's family members, to the offender's family members, about fairness .... and yes, Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death and yes, to some of the victim's family members this was really important but on the other hand, there were also family members who did not agree to this sentence. But today, I don't even want to talk about this as I believe that this day should be dedicated to the people who died in the attack.

So I would like to ask all of you to dedicate a few minutes of your time to remembering the victims of this awful attack, to sit down, light a candle and think of them and to pray together with me for the families of the victims with the empty chairs they have to face on a daily basis and for their friends.

And please, while praying, don't forget the families of the attackers - they,too, got to live with what happened back then and they, too, got an empty chair of a loved one in their midst.

So please, dedicate this day to all the empty chairs the bombing caused. Thank you!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Report from Ohio and Other Places from DPIC

The Death Penalty Information Center is one of the most helpful, crucial and accurate resources we in the abolition movement have. Here are a few good reasons to go there more often. I decided to post these sample items after reminders from my co-blogger and notice from Rick Halperin.

So following are some reasons to go OFTEN here

STUDIES: Ohio Releases Annual Capital Crimes Report (Just out April 14-15 2010)

The Ohio Attorney General's Office recently released its annual Capital Crimes Report, analyzing the state's death penalty cases and death row population. In 2009, there was only one death sentence handed down in Ohio, mirroring a nationwide trend of declining death sentences. This was the fewest death sentences in a year since Ohio reinstated the death penalty. The report indicated that over half of the current death row population of 160 inmates are African-American (51%), while Caucasians make up roughly 44%. The average age of the death row inmates in Ohio is 45, and they have spent an average of 14 years on death row. In recent history, the majority of removals from death row have been for reasons other than execution. While there have been 33 executions (now 36) since 1981, 52 inmates received life sentences after appeal and remand, another 11 had their sentences commuted to life by the governor, and 7 were sentenced to life after a mental retardation determination. Another 20 inmates died of natural causes while they were on death row. View more at DPIC

CALIFORNIA: Homicide investigations put on hold (Recent Report):
In California, a state that is spending $137 million per year on the death penalty, many homicide investigations have been put on hold due to a budget crisis in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is forcing officers to suspend work on their cases and take days or weeks off because of new overtime limits. One of the LAPD's most productive investigators sat idle for 6 weeks, unable to follow old leads or to pick up on new ones because he had accumulated overtime on cases. Homicide detectives have especially demanding work schedules that routinely require them to investigate a case through the nights and weekends. "The hours have to come from some place," LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said. "It has a serious impact on our ability to respond to some of the large, violent incidents we've been experiencing lately. That is especially true of homicide investigations because of the long hours they demand." In one region, Southeast L.A., 9 of the 14 killings this year remain unsolved. "That is horrible compared to our typical rates," said Det. Sal LaBarbera, a 24-year homicide veteran who supervises the Southeast squad. "All of those cases are solvable. None of them are mysteries. A few of them would likely already be solved, if I could just let my guys loose to work."

CSI Director Convicted of Planting Evidence in Murder Investigation (Recent):
David Kofoed, CSI Director of Douglas County, NEBRASKA was convicted last month of planting evidence during a murder investigation, casting doubts on the legitimacy of other cases on which he worked. Kofoed's work came into question after a 2006 investigation into the murder of Wayne and Sharmon Stock. The victims' nephew was one of the leading suspects in the murder, despite the lack of physical evidence tying him and an accomplice to the killing. The victims' nephew confessed to the police, but he retracted his confession the next day. A day later, Kofoed claimed to find a drop of blood from one of the victims in a car that was linked to the suspects, though it had already been examined by another forensic investigator. The two suspects were charged with murder but were released several months later when prosecutors determined the confession was unreliable and didn't fit the facts in the case. A man and woman from Wisconsin later pleaded guilty to the crimes and are now serving life sentences.

REPORT: the unreliability of Eyewitness Testimony (Recent):
Innocence groups from around the country, along with a group of eyewitness testimony experts, recently filed amicus briefs asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case of Kevin Keith, an Ohio man who is on death row for fatally shooting three people in 1994. The innocence groups stated that Keith's conviction was based on faulty eyewitness testimony that was improperly influenced by the police. In addition, Keith's counsel uncovered another possible suspect, a man with a violent criminal history, who told a confidential police informant that he was paid to "cripple" the person who was the target of the shooting. Defense lawyers asserted that the state withheld important information about the possible other suspect. Keith has an alibi for the time of the crime supported by four witnesses. No forensic evidence conclusively links him to the crime. Keith is scheduled for execution on September 15.

NEW VOICES: Chief of Police Says Death Penalty Does Not Serve Victims (April 07, 2010): James Abbott, Chief of Police of West Orange, NEW JERSEY, recently spoke at an international forum regarding his experience as a member of the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission. Chief Abbott, who was Governor Codey's Republican appointee to the Commission, said he did not anticipate changing his mind regarding capital punishment, but was greatly influenced by the stories of murder victims' famlies who testified during the commission's hearings. "I had no idea how much families suffer facing years of death penalty appeals and reversals....For every person that had been sentenced to death, there was a family waiting for the promised punishment to be delivered.... The reality is that there is no closure in capital cases, just more attention to the murderer and less to the victim. Unfortunately, it’s easier for most of U.S. citizens to name notorious killers than it is their victims." Abbott lamented the lack of support for murder victims' families: "I would want to know that the person who did it was behind bars for life, so they could never kill again, and that my family had the services they needed to heal and the financial support they needed to live without further sacrifice. Our Commission learned that those kinds of services were sorely lacking – and that they could be improved with the financial savings from ending the death penalty." Read Chief Abbott's full presentation at DPIC.

All at DPIC and much more...


“After 20 years on (the) high court, I have to acknowledge that serious questions are being raised about whether the death penalty is being fairly administered in this country.” - Sandra Day O'Connor, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Perhaps the most influential factor in determining whether a defendant will receive the death penalty is the quality of legal representation he or she receives. Almost all defendants in death penalty cases cannot afford their own attorneys, and are represented by a state-appointed attorney, some of whom are are overworked, underpaid, or lacking the trial experience necessary for death penalty cases. The right to an attorney is central to the American judicial system. Especially in capital cases, it is very important that the attorney be experienced in criminal and death penalty law, be adequately compensated, and have access to the resources needed to prepare a vigorous defense.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund recently released its Fall 2009 edition of Death Row USA, a report detailing death row populations across the United States. According to the report, California, Florida and Texas continue to lead the nation in the number of death row inmates, with California (694) having a death row population almost twice as large as either Florida (395) or Texas (339). In addition, while Florida's and Texas' death row populations have declined in the last decade, California's population has grown steadily, from 551 inmates in 1999 to 694 in 2009. California has not had an execution since 2006. Overall, the country's death row population decreased since Death Row USA's report of July 1, 2009--from 3,279 to 3,263 as of Oct. 1. View the full report at DPIC

Former Death Row Inmate Acquitted in One Court, Now Convicted in Another (Recent):
Timothy Hennis was convicted in 1986 of murdering three people in NORTH CAROLINA was tried in state court. However, his conviction was overturned because of weak evidence and improper statements by the prosecution. He was re-tried, and the jury voted unanimously for his acquittal in 1989. The evidence from the crime scene was preserved and, when DNA testing became available, a re-evaluation of the evidence pointed to the possibility that Hennis was indeed guilty of the murders. Although the constitutional protection against double jeopardy prevented his being re-tried
in North Carolina's court, military courts have separate jurisdiction and can try ... military laws, allowing a retrial even after an acquittal in state court. Hennis, who had left the service, was recalled to active duty in the military and then recently tried for the third time for the triple murder--of a woman and two children. A military jury convicted Hennis of murder on April 8. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty, and a sentencing hearing will begin soon. Hennis was previously included on DPIC's list of exonerated individuals.

A Report released by the ACLU of Northern CALIFORNIA reveals that only three counties–Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside–accounted for 83% of the state's death sentences in 2009. Los Angeles County, with 13 death sentences, was the leading death penalty county in the entire country last year. According to the report, California, with the largest death row in the country, spends $137 million annually on the death penalty, while the state is cutting back on many vital services. The report also indicated an increase in the Latino population of California's death row in recent years; 50% of the death sentences in 2007 were for Latinos even though they comprised only 36% of the state's population.

The executive summary of the report concluded, "A shift to permanent imprisonment would mean significant savings in a time of fiscal crisis, would eliminate the risk of executing the innocent, and would lead to more consistent policies across all California counties. California is on track to spend $1 billion on the death penalty in the next five years, though even more funds are required to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction and to ensure timely review of lengthy death penalty cases. For all the money dedicated to the death penalty in California, only 1 out of 100 people sentenced to death has actually been executed during the last thirty years."

A recent editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer cited the high costs of PENNSYLVANIA's death penalty as a key reason for supporting an abolition bill that was proposed last month by a state senator. According to the editorial, the state could significantly cut spending by eliminating the death penalty and the lengthy court proceedings that accompany it. Taxpayers would also save by not having to maintain the state's high-security death row, which currently houses 220 inmates. According to the editorial, "Pennsylvania has reached the point where the right moral course - ending capital punishment - coincides more than ever with the need to get the state's fiscal house in order. The state has not had an execution since 1999 and has had six exonerations since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. The paper suggested that "A useful step toward scrapping the flawed capital punishment system would be to impose a moratorium on executions."

NEW VOICES: Former TEXAS Governor Says Death Penalty Trial "Breached Every Standard of Fairness" Posted: April 02, 2010
Mark White, former governor of Texas and a death penalty supporter, recently wrote an op-ed in the National Law Journal calling for a new trial for Charles Hood, a Texas death row inmate whose trial was compromised by the fact that the prosecutor and the trial judge had been in an intimate relationship prior to the trial. As former Gov. White explained, "The judge and the prosecutor at Hood's trial had a long-term secret affair prior to the trial and concealed the relationship for 20 years. This was a secret that the pair kept even when they knew Hood was on the brink of execution and was trying to verify the rumors of the relationship." The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a new sentencing hearing for Hood on grounds of improper jury instructions, but refused to address the conflict of interest caused by the long-term, extra-marital affair. White writes, "The trial judge and the prosecuting attorney's affair breaches every standard of fairness that you would expect a defendant to receive during a capital case or, for that matter, a non-capital case. Hood could not have gotten a fair trial under these circumstances." The former governor also voiced his concern about the fallibility of this system: "Hood's case shows, at the most basic level, that there are huge flaws in our procedures and human frailties in the people who administer them."


“After 20 years on (the) high court, I have to acknowledge that serious questions are being raised about whether the death penalty is being fairly administered in this country.” - Sandra Day O'Connor, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Perhaps the most influential factor in determining whether a defendant will receive the death penalty is the quality of legal representation he or she receives. Almost all defendants in death penalty cases cannot afford their own attorneys, and are represented by a state-appointed attorney, some of whom are are overworked, underpaid, or lacking the trial experience necessary for death penalty cases. The right to an attorney is central to the American judicial system. Especially in capital cases, it is very important that the attorney be experienced in criminal and death penalty law, be adequately compensated, and have access to the resources needed to prepare a vigorous defense.

The clemency of Billy Neal Moore

by John Dear SJ in the National Catholic Reporter on March 24th, 2009

(This article is already a year old but I only saw it today. Since the story it tells is so remarkable, I wanted to share it with you as well - Susanne)

Last week, New Mexicans celebrated a great victory for justice and mercy: Governor Bill Richardson signed into law a bill abolishing the death penalty. This historic event came after years of campaigning and lobbying by many people -- politicians, church workers, activists around the state, even family members of murder victims. In the end, moral pressure from all sides backed by the sober analysis of the death penalty made the difference. This great turning point took me back nineteen years to another miraculous time, the campaign to stop the execution of Billy Neal Moore, which led to one of the great spiritual lessons of my life.

I had read about Billy in a 1984 article in The Catholic Worker, and I set about to write him to offer my support. “Your letter was appreciated and I do thank you,” he wrote back, “but know that the Lord Jesus Christ is in full control of my life.” I had imagined myself at his service. But then with a stroke of the pen, he turned the tables. In what way, he asked, could he be of help to me? I sat down astonished and reached for my own pen. Here was the beginning of a long correspondence. And it dawned on me quickly that, though my new friend, in a series of drunken blunders, had indeed committed the crime, he was a man now deeply committed to Gospel nonviolence.

In 1989 I traveled to Jackson, Ga., to meet him at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center, a fancy name for death row. It was like meeting the converted Paul, pursuer and killer once, now bearer of the grace and wisdom of Gospel nonviolence. He radiated a grace and peace out of kilter with his plight.

Billy told me his story, and I was impressed by his calm demeanor. His troubles began in 1974. He and a friend had drunk themselves into boozy recklessness then tried to rob an old man. The first attempt failed, the friend ran away. But Billy went back. The man fired his shotgun and missed. Billy fired back. “The minute the man died, part of me did too,” Billy said. He didn’t run, and when the man’s family showed up, Billy broke down sobbing and begged for forgiveness. The government has spent over a million dollars in pursuit of my death, he told me in 1989. If only they had offered grants when he was younger, he said -- so he could find a job, get an education -- he would never have stumbled into such dire straits. Everyone would have been spared pain.

Not long after arriving in a prison, he was baptized bathtub. For the first time, he said, he felt God’s love. There followed a momentous conversion. He became a devout Christian, and spent his days in prayer, writing to hundreds of people around the country and consoling other inmates.

One Thursday morning in August 1990, I received an urgent call. The following Wednesday Billy was scheduled to die. He had spent more time on death row than anyone else. But a last chance remained. State law provided that the Georgia Board of Pardon and Paroles, within 24 hours of the execution, must hear pleas and consider clemency.

Everyone knew the chances were slim. The board hadn’t commuted a sentence in more than a hundred years. Perhaps it was a safeguard once, but the institution had devolved -- it was now nothing more than an auxiliary arm of the executioner. The last rubber stamp before the electric chair. Chances seemed especially remote for Billy who had pleaded guilty. But circumstances presented nothing else to work with.

The hearing was five days off when I arrived, so a group of us set about organizing press conferences, prayer vigils, and a lobbying campaign. Friday night we held a prayer vigil in Atlanta, begging God for a miracle of clemency. We made clemency our watchword. Then off to Macon, where we led a service Saturday night at St. Peter Claver Church.

That Saturday evening, just before the prayer vigil, someone brought me a letter from Billy that had just arrived from death row. He thanked us for our efforts, but took us to task. He had learned a thing or two about clemency, having received it from his victim’s family, having extended it to his fellow inmates -- several of whom grew desperate as their time approached. Clemency from death row was for him a secondary issue. “Thank you for all you are doing for me,” he began. But how can God take your prayer of clemency for me seriously, he asked, when none of you grant clemency to those who have hurt you?

He was speaking about us, the organizers -- the ones who had come to his aid, who were trying to fight the system. In my case, at least, he knew through our correspondence of my long list of grievances. If you want to do something for me, he said, forgive those who have offended you. Your prayers will have no authenticity until you yourselves offer clemency to everyone who ever hurt you. So do not bother God on my behalf until you yourselves are serious about practicing clemency in your own lives. As for him? He planned on death row a prayer service of his own -- for a peaceful solution to the impending crisis with Iraq.

His letter utterly confounded me. It was one of the most profound witnesses I have ever experienced. Who among us, just days before our execution, would call your main supporters to a deeper spiritual conversion?

On the moment, we devised an entirely new kind of prayer service. I read the letter to the congregation, and a passage from the Gospels. I then invited everyone to recall those who had hurt them, to forgive them and grant them clemency. We sat in silence for a long time. Then we raised chastened hands to the altar and said, “Dear God, we grant clemency to everyone who ever hurt us. Now please grant clemency to us and give us the miracle of clemency for our brother Billy. Abolish the death penalty and grant clemency everywhere.”

That Tuesday, at the Board of Pardon and Parole hearing, Billy’s family testified, and then local clergy and finally the victim’s family. The Board -- five stodgy white men -- sat impassively, careful not to betray their leanings. Several Board members had spoken on the phone with Mother Teresa. Jesse Jackson issued a statement. And hundreds of others wrote or called. Then came the testimony from Sarah Farmer, niece of Billy’s victim, speaking on behalf of the family. She spoke of Billy’s tears 16 years earlier when he realized what he had done and of the relationship that had since formed. She concluded, water brimming in her eyes: “This is our brother Billy and you can’t kill him. We’ve lost one family member and we’re not going to lose another. We don’t want you to execute him.”

Thirty minutes later, the Board returned with an historic, unanimous verdict of clemency -- the first time in a 140-odd years. Billy’s sentence had been commuted. A few years later he was quietly released. Today, he serves as a prison chaplain and remains my good friend. Last fall, he spoke in Rome at the World Anti-Death Penalty Day vigil, and also gave talks all over South Africa.

And now this great day in New Mexico. Said Governor Richardson, “I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime. [And] the reality is, the system is not perfect -- far from it. The system is inherently defective. DNA testing has proven that. Innocent people have been put on death row all across the country...More than 130 death row inmates have been exonerated in the past 10 years in this country, including four New Mexicans -- a fact I cannot ignore.”

The governor and the Georgia Board of Pardon and Paroles both learned the wisdom of rejecting death -- the governor because there is room for error, the Board because Billy offered proof of a life redeemed. It’s wisdom we all need to learn. We must be open to the facts, meet those languishing in jail, and embark on a spiritual journey toward truth, justice, and compassion.

“Many of the countries that…use the death penalty,” the governor added, “are also the most repressive nations in the world. That’s not something to be proud of. In a society which values individual life and liberty above all else…the potential for wrongful conviction and, God forbid, execution of an innocent person stands as anathema to our very sensibilities as human beings. That is why I’m signing this bill into law.”

Amen to that, I say. But we can’t leave matters there. As Billy taught me in Macon, if we want a culture of forgiveness and reconciliation, if we want clemency from God, we ourselves must grant clemency to everyone who ever hurt us.

Billy Neal Moore has proven to be my most immediate teacher of the art of nonviolence. And my ears still ring with his magnanimous words -- make clemency a way of life -- and in the spirit of Lent, I pass them on to you. May we all forgive one another and receive forgiveness. May we abolish the death penalty once and for all -- and with it the obscenity of war and nuclear weapons. May we finally begin to live as sisters and brothers in the clement peace of Christ.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"I owe my life to Amnesty International"

Earlier this month in Yemen, an emotional Hafez Ibrahim greeted Amnesty International researcher Lamri Chirouf, the man he credits with stopping his execution for a crime committed when he was a child.

Now aged 22, Hafez proudly described his determination to make the most of the life that was returned to him. He is in his third year at Sanaa University studying law, and plans to dedicate himself to protecting human rights. His story highlights the additional injustice and cruelty of the death penalty when it comes to juvenile offenders.

Hafez Ibrahim was 16 when he attended a wedding in his home town of Taizz. Everyone was in high spirits and most of the men were armed. At some point, the celebrations boiled over, a struggle broke out, a gun went off and someone was killed.
The first judge sentenced me to death in 2005, he told Amnesty International. Then the case was referred to another judge, who confirmed the death sentence. He was not allowed to appeal.

Two years later and half way across the world in Amnesty Internationals headquarters in London, Lamri received a text on his mobile phone. It read: They are about to execute us. Hafez. Remarkably, Hafez had managed to get hold of a phone in Taizz Central Prison to send his desperate message.
Hafez knew what awaited him. He would be forced to lie face down on the ground inside the prison, and then guards would shoot him through the heart with an automatic rifle. The young man began the cruel countdown to death.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Exonerated inmate reflects on death row

By Dominique Dacaney, taken from the

In 1974, Delbert Tibbs faced the death penalty for crimes he did not commit. On April 1 in the Law School’s Barbieri Court Room, Tibbs shared his experience of what it was like to be falsely accused of rape and murder, and then exonerated from death row. The presentation highlighted problems in the United States criminal justice system, especially issues with eyewitness testimony and the death penalty. This event was the first Witness to Innocence event held in Washington.

Witness to Innocence is the “nation’s only organization composed of, by and for exonerated death row survivors and their loved ones,” according to its Web site. The group sends exonerated prisoners around the world to tell people their experiences in hopes of bringing the injustices of capital punishment to light.

After leaving the Chicago Theological Seminary, Tibbs decided he wanted to travel around the country. According to the event press release, Tibbs was stopped during his travels and questioned by Florida police in relation to “the rape of 16-year-old Cynthia Nadeau and the murder of her traveling companion in Fort Myers.”

Tibbs provided the officers with photo identification and even allowed them to take four

Polariods of him. Ultimately, the police did not believe he was involved in the murder and wrote him a letter stating so.

However, Tibbs was not in the clear. He was stopped again by police on his way out of Mississippi, and informed him that he was wanted for crimes committed in Florida. Despite the letter from Florida police stating he was not involved in the crimes near Fort Myers, Tibbs was arrested and charged with rape and murder charges.

“I was thinking that it was a case of mistaken identity,” Tibbs said. “Either they would find the real person or they would realize that I’m not the person that committed the crime.”

Tibbs later found out that Nadeau’s description of the perpetrator dramatically changed to fit his profile, after she was shown the pictures he provided the Florida police.

The trial lasted a day-and-a-half, in which an all-white jury found him guilty, and subsequently sentenced him to death.

“Slowly, it began to dawn on my thick brain that they really ain’t lookin’ for nobody else,” Tibbs confessed. “You are it my friend”.

With help from his brother, who was sheriff in Chicago at the time, and his former girlfriend, Tibbs’ case made national and international news.

For eight years, Tibbs sat in limbo, unsure of his future. Despite this, Tibbs remained steadfast in his faith, believing that, “God sent me to death row to be a witness.”
In 1982, the Florida State Supreme Court exonerated Tibbs from death row in a 5-4 decision.

Andrea Woods, a Gonzaga 2009 alumna and member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), is currently working with the Witness to Innocence program in Philadelphia. According to Woods, Witness to Innocence is a program that “supports men who were sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit and were eventually exonerated when they were proven innocent”.

Woods hoped the presentation would get people thinking about issues surround the death penalty, “regardless of your morals or your opinions or your biases.”

She suggested that the first step is “to say that we’re not going to execute people if we are going to execute innocent people,” and that the alternative to execution be life without parole.

Dr. Ellen Maccarone, Gonzaga assistant professor of philosophy, has been involved in the anti-death penalty movement in Washington for the past five years. She is a member of the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and sits on a steering committee that oversees the coalition on the east side of the state.

One of the most popular arguments in favor of the death penalty is that execution is cheaper than housing a person in jail for life. However, “from indictment to execution the average cost for a death penalty case is over a million dollars,” Maccarone said. “The biggest challenge with working against the death penalty is the misconceptions that people have.”

Dr. Maccarone suggests that students who want to get involved in the anti-death penalty movement should volunteer by spreading awareness through organizations such as the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, or writing letters to state representatives to draft legislation.

“If there is a ground swell of people who think differently about the death penalty that’s how laws get changed,” Maccarone said.

The most recent states that have abolished the death penalty are New Jersey and New Mexico.

This presentation was sponsored by the Gonzaga Activities’ Board.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A message of love, written in blood:
20 years after Winnetka murder, women remain inspired by sister’s dying statement

On anniversary of slaying, sisters’ activism is as strong as ever
By John Keilman, Tribune reporter, Chicago Tribune

As Nancy Bishop Langert lay dying in the basement of her Winnetka home, mortally wounded by an intruder's bullets, she found the strength for an act that even now, 20 years after her murder, continues to inspire those who knew her best.

She crawled over to a metal shelf and tipped it over. Then, with her own blood, she traced symbols onto its surface.

The characters were not perfectly formed, and lawyers would later argue over what they meant. But to Nancy's family, the message was plain: It was a heart, followed by the letter "U".

"What she clearly was saying to us is that love is the most important thing in the world," said Jennifer Bishop Jenkins, 52, one of Nancy's two sisters.

Since then, the sisters say they have tried to live up to that idea. They have spent years battling against capital punishment and for gun control, causes they believe are in keeping with their sister's final message.

The life of an activist, though, is complicated. The sisters have tasted the fury of others who have lost loved ones to murder, and they've broken with former friends over one of their causes — ensuring that juvenile killers who receive life sentences never get parole, a measure being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But even in the dark times, they say, their sister's spirit continues to push them forward.

"I just feel like she's inspired me to live more courageously and do things that I hope will make this world a better place," said Jeanne Bishop, 50. "I feel like I owe that to her."

Nancy Bishop Langert was 25 on April 7, 1990, a coffee company sales rep three months pregnant with her first child. She and her husband, Richard, had returned home from dinner that night when a gunman ambushed them in their townhouse.

Nancy's father came by the next day and discovered their bodies in the basement. Richard had been shot in the neck. Nancy had been shot twice in the torso.

As police hunted for the killer, grief, media attention and investigative pressure upended the lives of Nancy's older sisters.

Jennifer Bishop Jenkins was a teacher at a Catholic high school in Kankakee, and said a workplace visit from authorities eventually cost her her job. Jeanne Bishop, then a corporate attorney, was repeatedly grilled over her human rights work in Northern Ireland (some initially speculated that the symbols left by Nancy spelled "IRA").

Finally, six months after the crime, police arrested David Biro, a senior at New Trier High School who had allegedly bragged to a friend about the murders. As reporters converged on the Winnetka police station, Bishop Jenkins recalled, one asked if she was upset that Biro's age — he was 16 at the time of the slayings — made him ineligible for the death penalty.

That question crystallized a cloud of emotion that had been swirling within her since the killings. For the first time, she was able to imagine her sister's final moments in the basement, tracing what Bishop Jenkins believed to be an unambiguous message of love.

"I realized that the thing to say (to the reporter) was the loving thing," Bishop Jenkins said. "I just shook my head and said, ‘Nancy would never want the memorial to her life to be the death of another human being.'"

At trial, Biro's attorney contended the bloody scrawl was really an attempt to spell the name of another young man who Biro claimed was the real killer. The jury didn't buy it and took only two hours to find Biro guilty. A judge sentenced him to life in prison with no chance of parole.

With the case concluded, Nancy's sisters took up transformed lives. Bishop Jenkins, whose activism had been limited to writing letters for Amnesty International, spoke about her anti-death-penalty beliefs at churches and schools. She soon joined organizations that crusaded for its end.

Jeanne Bishop, who left her career in corporate law to become a Cook County public defender, made similar alliances. The sisters also lent their time, energy and modest name recognition to groups pushing for stricter handgun laws.

Bishop Jenkins "was just relentless in a positive way about trying to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to other families," said Becca Knox of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, where Bishop Jenkins worked from 2005 to 2009. "She just was a force of nature, combined with an open heart."

Knox said that while gun control is a harshly divisive subject, those who have lost loved ones to murder aren't afraid of the confrontation and name-calling that can come with the territory.

"They can withstand the abuse," she said. "They're not going to back down or be intimidated."

But the sisters' beliefs have been tested. Jeanne Bishop said she was an emotional wreck after facing the anger of some murder victims' families during the 2002 clemency hearings that preceded then-Gov. George Ryan's decision to commute all Illinois death sentences.

And four years ago, Bishop Jenkins grew estranged from some of her anti-death-penalty allies when they supported a bill to offer parole hearings to inmates who had received life sentences as juveniles –– a group that included the killer of her sister.

"It is a monumentally unfair thing to do to tell a family that a guy is serving life and then change that," said Bishop Jenkins, who joined the effort that defeated the bill.

The sisters went on to co-found the National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers, which has lobbied against similar parole-granting efforts elsewhere. In November, Bishop Jenkins attended oral arguments for a U.S. Supreme Court case that is challenging the constitutionality of juvenile life sentences. A decision is expected within the next few months.

Bishop Jenkins' advocacy gradually led her into politics. She is running for a seat on the Cook County Board, and though her Web site mentions the crime that propelled her into public life, it focuses more on her vow to trim the sales tax and the size of county government.

Jeanne Bishop, meanwhile, continues her work against capital punishment. On Wednesday, the anniversary date she normally spends at her sister's grave, she plans to speak at a death-penalty panel discussion in Dallas.

She didn't want to go at first. But then she thought of Nancy and changed her mind.

"I can't think of a better way to honor her than to be there, and to speak for life and against death," she said.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

In a bad crowd
If Texas were a nation, it would be the world’s seventh most prolific executioner

Last week’s headlines on stories reporting an Amnesty International study of global use of the death penalty in 2009 focused on the world’s top executioner.

The People’s Republic of China put at least 1,718 people to death, more than the rest of the world combined. The Chinese government treats information about the number of people it kills as a state secret whose divulgence is itself a criminal offense. There are 68 different crimes punishable by the death penalty in China, some of them nonviolent offenses.

For example, a businesswoman named Du Yimin was executed last August for the crime of fraudulently raising funds. Chinese authorities routinely use confessions extracted by torture to justify death sentences, and the system operates on the presumption that a person is guilty of charges unless proven innocent.

Iran was the second most prolific executioner with at least 388, followed by Iraq with more than 120 and Saudi Arabia at 69 or more. Amnesty International could not pinpoint an exact number for any of the top four capital punishment states, all of which often carry out sentences in secrecy. Modes of execution included hanging, beheading, shooting, stoning, electrocution and lethal injection.

And then there is the fifth most prolific user of state-sanctioned killing: the United States, with 52 executions in 2009. No other country in the Americas put a prisoner to death in that period.

Of the total executed in the U.S., 24 occurred in Texas, four times that of the closest competitor, Alabama. Only 10 of the 50 states carried out the death penalty last year.

If Texas were an independent nation, we would be the seventh-largest practitioner of capital punishment, just a smidgen behind Yemen, a failed state with a medieval judicial system.

Last year nine inmates on American death rows were exonerated and freed after spending a total of 121 years there, proof that even vaunted U.S. justice makes potentially fatal mistakes.

If nations — and their judicial systems — are known by the company they keep, the U.S. and Texas remain in a very sleazy clique that continues to impose the death penalty on its citizens.

Taken from the Chronicle

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Secret Identity of Easter Eggs

This story does not have any direct connection to the death penalty. However, it's a beautiful story, a story that fits this time of the year and a story which should give all of us who are fighting for a better world strengh and support. It's written by Amanda Kloer and a friend found it on and now I would like to share it with you:

The Secret Identity of Easter Eggs

Today is Easter, a holiday about new life and new hope. For Christians, it is the day that Jesus, after being unjustly killed by the government, rose from the dead in a miraculous triumph over evil. For many others, it's a reminder that the cold, short days of winter are coming to an end and a long, warm summer is on its way. But whether you celebrate Easter in church, with marshmallow Peeps, or some combination of the two, it is a day for us all to believe in and hope for a better tomorrow.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by Rev. Anne Howard, Director of the Beatitudes Society. In it, she told a lesser-known story about Mary Magdalene (who, incidentally, was not a prostitute like the Church has presented her). It supposedly took place shortly after the first Easter. The story goes,

Mary Magdalene, the First Apostle of the resurrection, was a woman of means and influence (and chutzpah), and sometime soon after the crucifixion of Jesus, she procured an invitation to dine at the court of Tiberius Caesar. She had a mission. She went to Rome to protest Pilate's miscarriage of justice, and to announce the resurrection. The ancient tale says that as Magdalene stood up to speak, Caesar was about to peel a hard-boiled egg. When he heard her announcement of the resurrection, he held up the egg and said, "He can no more be raised from the dead than this egg can turn red." And there, in his hand, the egg turned red.

Rev. Howard points out, and I agree, that this story would probably not hold up to historical scrutiny. But it's truth is less important that it's message: stand up for what you believe in, and amazing things will happen. Whether you believe that an egg turning red is a miracle from God or a fluke of science (beet juice snuck onto the egg tray), it was catalyzed by one courageous woman who spoke out against the injustice she saw. Sometimes, tackling issues like ending slavery, lifting people from poverty, and creating a more just and equal world seem as insurmountable as turning an egg red. We think, "Who am I to waltz into dinner with the President and tell him there's been a miscarriage of justice?" Who are we not to? If we aren't the ones to fight injustice and hate and poverty and slavery, then who will?

Some people think this story is the reason many people have a tradition of dying eggs on Easter. And if you are dying eggs (or eating dyed eggs) today, take a few moments to think about what you can do to "turn the eggs red" in your community. How can you stand up for justice, even when it seems impossible? How can you, dare I say it, be a little more like Mary Magdalene?