blogadmin | 18 November, 2008 17:58
By Massoud Nayeri, Guest Blogger
We agree we must fight the death penalty. The challenge lies in agreeing how.
Most of us believe unity carries a power all its own. If you need convincing, go to www.marchtoendexecution.org, the site for the 2007 march in Houston. I'm proud I was a small part of a team that made the site possible and of the work we did for the march.
When you look at the site, you will notice the emphasis on the unity of all forces, with a collection of support from Desmond Tutu, Mumia Abu Jamal, Jimmy Carter, Susan Sarandon, Helen Prejean and others.
This is my first concern – working as one. Unfortunately in Houston we have different factions that are working for the same cause but separately. This is a weakness the other side notices and will not hesitate to exploit.
I believe anti-death penalty groups must make it a priority to overcome our differences so we may use effectively the advantages of working synchronously toward our goal .
Beyond pursuing unity, we must analyze the ever-evolving political and social context to devise a strategy based on the new reality.
Most abolitionists would agree the astonishing number of exonerations from DNA testing have tilted public opinion in our favor. But the full impact of these exonerations has not yet been grasped by many in our movement.
The fact is that these nightmarish stories have stirred a deep anger in many Americans. For this reason, I believe we are closer to ending the death penalty in the United States than at any time since the mid-70s, when the goal seemed deceptively within reach.
If European capitalist countries can end the death penalty, as they all have, and still thrive then the American capitalist system also can afford this concession. Like the women's vote or civil rights, death penalty abolition is something the American political system can withstand.
The fact that the president-elect is African-American is in itself an indication that a new reality exists in this country, regardless of Mr. Obama’s conservative views -- in my opinion -- and his statements about the death penalty.
This is not to say the death penalty will be ended without a fight. Social progress has always come at a price. But a well-thought-out, persistent struggle can and must end the current inhumane policy of putting people on death row, locking them up alone in a tiny cell -- in some cases for 20 years or more -- then killing them.
I believe that, at this moment in history, our movement is strengthening in such a way that we stand a good chance of prevailing in a legal fight to end executions.
The Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq opened the eyes of the majority of Americans. Now more than ever they are skeptical about the prison and justice systems. They are more receptive to the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong in U.S. prisons. They want the problems corrected, and they want an end to out-of-control prison policies.
As we prepare for 2009 and new legislative sessions, public opinion is on our side. Americans silently support us, creating what is essentially a new era in the fight against the death penalty. For this new era, we need a new strategy.
Let us organize all of our forces and bring together the best attorneys to select a case where, based on undeniable facts, it can be proven that the state has killed an innocent person.
This approach is not as naïve as it may sound. Activists on both sides of the issue know innocent people have been executed. Proving it in a court of law is another matter. If there is even one case where it can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that an innocent person was put to death through an error or an imperfection in the system, then a civilized society must halt this practice.
Any other arguments against the death penalty are not as strong as knowing there is an unacceptable possibility in the system that an innocent person will be killed by the state.
Most politicians who support ending the death penalty but are silent right now would be moved to support legislation dismantling the system in the event of such a court victory.
I believe we still need to march, demonstrate, testify, hold vigils and otherwise continue to take our case to the people. I also believe Execution Watch is a step in that direction and can help educate more people.
But our main fight now should be a legal one, and I believe we have a good opportunity to win.
Massoud Nayeri is a peace and justice activist in Houston.
blogadmin | 11 November, 2008 18:33
MULTI-MILLIONAIRE COMMITS MURDER, ESCAPES DEATH PENALTY
The headline could have been ripped from the pages of a Galveston newspaper, circa 2003.
Today marks the fifth anniversary of
the day real estate heir
This headline is more recent, however. It refers to a case in New Hampshire, where a jury last week: convicted businessman John Brooks of murder for hire and murder during a kidnapping, confirmed that his crime involved several aggravating factors, and declined to impose the death penalty.
Prosecutor Kirsten Wilson commented philosophically, "The law is set up in a way that makes it incredibly difficult to sentence someone to death, and it should be that way."
Her statement alone would tell you this is not a Texas case -- especially not one from .
Since the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for executions to resume with Gregg v. Georgia in 1976, Texas has eclipsed all other states in manifesting its enthusiasm for the ruling, carrying out nearly 4 out of every 10 executions.
Unless Durst's mountainous wealth is taken into account, the laissez-faire outcome of his 2003 trial is an anomaly for Texas, which this year is on track to carry out 20 executions -- more than half of the U.S. total. No millionaires are among them. Harris County was the source for so many of these bodies and bodies-to-be, Houston's home county may very well end 2008 as the point of origin for more executed prisoners than any state, besides Texas, of course.
The assembly-line pace of executions in Texas belies the fact that nine inmates have been freed from its death row after being found innocent and two have received clemency.
Even those who declare that Texas has enough checks to make an unjustified execution highly unlikely might feel less blustery if asked to declare it the 11 former denizens of death row. A system full of safeguards can kill an innocent person more easily than it can eliminate error and bias.
Common sense and statistics both say that wealth, social status, the race of the killer, the race of the victim, and wealth -- did I say "wealth"? -- are significant factors in determining whether a convicted killer gets the death penalty or is allowed to live.
In editorializing about Brooks' sentencing, the Concord, N.H., Monitor recalled that the U.S. in 1972 declared it "incontestable" that the death penalty would be unconstitutionally cruel and unusual if imposed with any consideration of the "race, religion, wealth, social position or class" of a defendant.
"But the decision to kill in the name of the state or to spare someone found guilty of a capital crime is made by human beings," the editorial mused. "Prejudice, conscious or unconscious, will always be present. The death penalty can never be administered equally, and thus should not be administered at all."
Wise words, though perhaps wasted in a state like New Hampshire where the death penalty option has gone unused since 1976. Maybe the editorial should be republished in a state or county whose prosecutors seem to spend less time pondering their own fallibility.
blogadmin | 09 November, 2008 19:46
"It's all about transparency" --Seth Unger, California prison spokesman
If you watch HGTV as much as I do, you're familiar
with a show called MY BIG AMAZING RENOVATION. Much to my disappointment, the
show has been slow to recognize a major, $850,000 remodel to the death chamber
at San Quentin.
Not to worry. The transformation is detailed in a computer-animated video illustrating the changes made in the multi-room complex. The silent video, a product of the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, takes the viewer on a tour of the old facility, then the new one. The chamber-improvement video is at http://www.cce.csus.edu/CDCRVideos/2007-05-15LethalInjectionChamberVirtualTours.wmv
The virtual tour was spotted online by Jon Ortiz, author of the State Worker blog for the Sacramento Bee, www.sacbee.com . CDCR spokesman Seth Unger told Ortiz the video is part of the evidence submitted in response to litigation alleging San Quentin’s old death chamber and execution procedures were unconstitutional. A federal judge must approve the remodel before executions may resume.
"What we wanted to do was to highlight what we had done to address those concerns. … It's about transparency," Unger said. "It's all about transparency."
When I think of transparency, I think of something I can see through. If you, like me, have trouble believing that San Quentin officials approached the reconfiguration their execution complex with a passion for letting the public see exactly what's going on inside, then we agree that Mr. Unger's words, if not San Quentin's procedures, are transparent.
blogadmin | 21 October, 2008 16:32
blogadmin | 17 October, 2008 17:03
By Elizabeth Ann Stein, Producer
Airing live on Texas execution days 6-7 pm CDT
Streaming live at http://executionwatch.org, http://www.kpft.org/
HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- With the holiday season five weeks away, early birds are counting shopping days.
Texas is counting execution days.
Between now and Nov. 20, the busiest death chamber in the United States will give to 10 men. During one three-day period, a prisoner will be executed each day.
The state of Texas began warming up the death chamber this week by executing two prisoners. The head start will bring the anticipated pre-holiday string of carnage to an even dozen, a level of efficiency that hardly approaches that of Birkenau yet brings it to mind.
In contrast, the Death House will be as peaceful as a snowy manger while the rest of the country celebrates
Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Not until mid-January will it
resume its grisly business.
“I suppose they’re afraid it might harm their humanitarian image to keep the death machine humming during the holidays,” ex-convict and civil rights activist Ray Hill observed trenchantly.
Hill is host and co-founder of EXECUTION WATCH, a radio show at KPFT FM Houston that streams on http:www.kpft.org and http://executionwatch.org with live coverage and commentary whenever the Lone Star state executes someone.
The Christmas break is just one of many traditions Texas observes in carrying out the death penalty, most of them incomprehensible, said show producer and co-founder Elizabeth Ann Stein.
“Texas is the undisputed capital of mong industrialized Western nations,” she said. “Why stop during the birthday of the world’s most famous death-penalty victim?”
The spate of pre-holiday executions continues Tuesday, Oct. 21, when Joseph Ries is slated to die by lethal injection just after 6 p.m. CDT. Ries was sentenced to death for the 1999 murder and robbery of Robert Ratliff, who was shot as he slept in his home in Cumby, Texas. Live coverage and discussion will be streamed by EXECUTION WATCH at http:www.kpft.org and http://executionwatch.org
Elizabeth Ann Stein produces EXECUTION WATCH on KPFT FM Houston 90.1, HD-2 and www.executionwatch.org. The program, hosted by Ray Hill, airs at 6 p.m. Central Time any day Texas executes someone. It is designed to counteract the virtual news blackout in the mainstream media when prisoners are executed. She has worked as a political reporter for United Press International, police reporter at a daily newspaper, and an editor for PC Week.