One of the most compelling reasons to abolish the death penalty is that the innocent are executed.
Witness to Innocence is the only national organization of exonerated death row survivors, representing the 141 innocent men and women who have been released from death row since 1973, after spending a decade on average awaiting execution. Our members tell their stories in every corner of the country and around the world, as we empower them and their loved ones to take a leadership role in the death penalty abolition movement. Over the past five years, we have helped bring about abolition in five states.
We may never know how many innocent people have been executed. But we do know America has executed the innocent throughout its history.
In 1944, George Stinney became the youngest person executed in the U.S. This 5-foot-1, 90-pound black boy was convicted of the impossible crime of beating two young girls to death with a 20-pound railroad spike. George was interrogated for hours without his parents present, and reportedly was offered an ice cream cone for confessing. At trial his defense counsel did not cross-examine witnesses. And the all-white male jury deliberated for all of 10 minutes before finding him guilty of first-degree murder. The state of South Carolina electrocuted George despite no evidence of a confession, other than the word of a deputy, and no physical evidence linking him to the crime.
A year later, Lena Baker became the first and only woman to be executed in Georgia's electric chair. Baker, who was African-American, was found guilty by a white jury of murdering her white employer. The man reportedly enslaved and beat Baker, and threatened to kill her if she left. 60 years later, the state of Georgia gave Baker a full and unconditional pardon.
Fast forward to today, and America's death machine continues to kill the innocent for the same reasons--including police coercion, witness misidentification, prosecutorial misconduct, bad lawyering and racism in jury selection. The only way to guarantee this doesn't happen again is to get rid of the death penalty altogether. It is a fundamentally broken system that cannot be repaired.
2012 was a busy year for WTI. Our death row survivors worked closely with state abolition groups, lawmakers and communities across the country to bring about an end to executions. We helped shape public opinion and move California closer to repeal of the death penalty. WTI joined the Innocence Network and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. We testified at UN headquarters and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. We spoke at the Coliseum in Rome in celebration of the repeal of the death penalty in Connecticut. And WTI met with European Union officials in Brussels.
And 2013 will be an even bigger year for us. WTI plans to help repeal the death penalty in other states this year. Our gathering in Atlanta will empower our members with the tools to become more effective anti-death penalty activists. We will reach out to new allies, engage communities of color, expand our presence in the South, and fight for federal compensation for the wrongfully convicted.
(Although my policy on The Journey of Hope blog is not to rais funds for other groups, you may want to go to the source to find out this info. Connie )
David A. Love
P.S. Victory is in sight, but we can't do this without you. End the death penalty in 2013