- Louisiana inmate likely to be freed after 30 years on death row: “Glenn Ford, who has spent 30 years on Louisiana’s death row is likely to be freed soon, after prosecutors filed motions to vacate his conviction and sentence.”
- Rick Perry killed an innocent man: ” It’s becoming clearer by the day that Rick Perry killed an innocent man. Ten years ago, Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham, who was convicted in 1992 on arson charges, for setting a 1991 fire in Corsicana, Texas that killed his three children. But now, newly uncovered evidence suggests that Willingham, who maintained his innocence until his death, was in fact an innocent man.”
- Doctor appointed for James Holmes’s second sanity exam: “A psychiatrist has been appointed to conduct a second sanity evaluation of the man charged with killing 12 people in a Colorado movie theater, but the doctor’s name hasn’t been released.”
- “I was on death row, and I was innocent”: ” Edward Lee Elmore’s story, which is the focus of the first episode of CNN’s documentary series, “Death Row Stories,” shows that the capital punishment system does not always get it right. Like Edward, I know this first-hand. I was the first person in the United States to be exonerated from death row because of DNA testing.”
- Garry Rayno’s State House Dome: Vote on death penalty repeal set for Wednesday: “The [NH] House is scheduled to vote Wednesday on repealing the death penalty for those convicted of capital murder.”
- Montour pleads guilty after prosecutors drop death penalty demand: “Before the judge sentenced Montour to prison, defense attorneys and Eric’s parents waited in the courtroom. The Autobees, who had opposed prosecutors’ efforts to seek the death penalty, exhaled heavy sighs of relief and sorrow as they waited.”
- Edward Montour case: Juror blasts “abhorrent” prosecution: “Last week, after battling for more than a decade to execute Edward Montour Jr. for the 2002 murder of guard Eric Autobee at the Limon prison, prosecutors abruptly caved on the second day of his trial, agreeing to a deal that will keep Montour in prison for life without parole.”
Our most recent newsletter is available online. It features the following, among other articles:
- Information on the upcoming March 1, 2014 annual meeting
- An update on death-penalty-related legislation in Arizona
- Reports by board members on a national symposium on the death penalty and a death-penalty conference
- A review of a new book on the death-penalty cases in the 1970s that led to and ended a four-year moratorium on execution
- You can see the newsletter (PDF) by clicking here.
Posted in News and Events, Newsletter, Updates | Tagged news, newsletter, updates
The following letter to the editor ran in the January 4, 2014, Arizona Daily Star. It’s by DPAA’s vice president.
Myriad reasons to drop death penalty
By Punch Woods
Re: the Dec. 17 article “Death penalty sought for three.”
How tragic the Pima county attorney is seeking the death penalty. The cost is millions more than seeking life without parole. That money could well be used for other investigations and appropriate prosecutions. Last year the county attorney spent about $2 million more than authorized.
Furthermore, evidence and experience demonstrate that the death penalty is cruel, irrevocable and a violation of the right to life. It damages and poisons society by endorsing violence and by causing injustice and suffering. It has no particular effect on violent crime, and abolition nations often have lower murder rates than those that still execute.
Executions and death sentences have dropped nationally, but not here. Pima and Maricopa counties are among the top 15 counties performing executions since 1976. Will Pima County be the last to stop seeking the death penalty?
Our most recent newsletter is available online. It features the following, among other articles:
- Our outreach efforts, written by DPAA President Dan Peitzmeyer
- A report on Witness To Innocence, which was founded by exonerated Arizona death row inmate Ray Krone and activist and author Sister Helen Prejean
- “The Injustice of Robert Jones’s Execution.” a commentary by DPAA Board member Chuck Laroue
You can see the newsletter (PDF) by clicking here.
by Joan M. Bundy, Member of the Board of Directors, DPAA
On November 12, 2013 (11-12-13, rather interestingly), I had the distinct privilege and honor of attending the American Bar Association’s National Symposium on the Modern Death Penalty in America in Atlanta, GA, at which former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was the keynote speaker.
Despite his rather advanced age (89) and the fact that both his parents and all three of his siblings have died of pancreatic cancer, he is still very much alive and active on the global scene pushing for peace, human rights and social justice, including abolishment of the death penalty worldwide. He appeared extremely hale, walking without any assistance despite a slightly hunched back, speaking as strongly and confidently as ever, and with an intellect as sharp as a tack.
One might daresay he is busier and more productive now than when he was in the White House. He brought peals of laughter when he mentioned a cartoon he saw recently of a little boy saying, “Mommy! I want to be an ex-president when I grow up!” He did seem to be the embodiment of the elder statesman. He is the only U.S. President to receive the Nobel Peace Prize after leaving office (in 2002). He is also the only U.S. President to bring Israel and Egypt together for peace talks.
During his speech he touched on several diplomacy efforts he and his wife, Mrs. Rosalynn (pronounced “ROSE-uh-lin”) Carter, have engaged in of late, including visiting Syria to try to bring about peace (or at least a truce) in that civil war-torn country and an upcoming trip to Nepal to monitor elections there for a 95th time!
Then he launched into a discussion of the death penalty in the United States, stating: “Another element of war is that we still have the death penalty in the United States.” I had never thought of it quite that way, but what a profound statement. And so true! It is as if we are at war with our own citizens, in that we kill them if they supposedly commit one or more of our “worst of the worst” crimes, are prosecuted capitally and end up on “death row” in a federal pen or a state prison in one of the 32 U.S. states that still have capital punishment on their books.
He said it’s embarrassing the kind of bad company the United States keeps when it comes to the death penalty. We share the practice with some of the worst human-rights offenders in the world, including China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The United States is the only remaining country in the “first world”/“Western world,” NATO or the Western Hemisphere that still executes its own people (he mentioned Suriname, in South America, which still has it on its books but hasn’t carried one out in more than a decade). By comparison, the only country in Europe that currently uses the death penalty is Belarus (part of the former Soviet Union).
He lamented the amount of violence in the United States when compared with other “first world” or “Western civilizations” and noted that there seems to be more violence and murder in jurisdictions that execute their citizens than those who don’t, even when looking at adjacent states. Moreover, our neighbor to the north—Canada—whose last execution was in 1962, had only about 500 murders last year compared to the United States’ 15,000. It also has a third less gun ownership, and Carter stated that tighter gun control is desperately needed in the United States to stem the tide of violence here.
He decried the increased use of the death penalty in the United States since its reinstatement in 1977, pointing out that during his presidency only three occurred (one in 1977 and two in 1979). Although down from the high of 98 in 1999, 43 occurred in 2012. He mourned Texas’ dubious distinction of executing more people than any other jurisdiction, in fact more than a third of the 1,354 people killed post-1976 in the United States (at last count the Lone Star State had executed 507 per the Death Penalty Information Center, www.deathpenaltyinfo.org).
Carter also complained about the high monetary costs of capital punishment; for example, the state of California has spent about $4 billion to execute 13 people post-1976. It also has the largest number of death-row inmates (at last count 731). He also referenced the tragedy of unfair application of the death penalty to the poor and minorities. Essentially, those who end up on death row are those against whom the deck was already stacked and who couldn’t afford good legal representation.
Something that I hadn’t thought about too much before, even though I’ve been involved in the abolition movement for 13 years and interned at the Arizona Capital Representation Project in law school, is that the two landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases that temporarily halted and then revived the death penalty in the 1970s both hailed from Georgia: Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), and Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. (1976). President Carter said when he approved the legislative changes to the death penalty in Georgia while he was governor (1971 to 1975), he truly believed they were going to make it applied in a fairer, more rationally based manner and now knows that it likely made it no better than it was pre-1972.
One thing that really surprised me was not only did he say that he has long been opposed to the death penalty personally and that The Carter Center, where the event was held, has “taken a firm stance” against it since its inception in 1982, but he also recommended that the American Bar Association take a stand and state that the death penalty should be abolished and not just that it continue to be “examined” for fairness of application, because it’s impossible to get it right 100 percent of the time, and getting it wrong even once—and executing an innocent person—is simply not acceptable.
He mentioned that both he and Rosalynn have called and written letters to legislators, state governors and heads of state in other countries urging them to abolish the death penalty and/or commute sentences/grant clemency in specific cases and are more than willing to continue doing so. He also encouraged the attendees to do the same and write letters to the media and speak on panels to increase public awareness and understanding of the issues involved.
He also recommended pushing for a moratorium rather than outright abolishment of the death penalty in a particular jurisdiction, because it is easier to get support for the former and it still results in few death sentences being handed out, and ultimately the death penalty is usually shortly thereafter abolished in places that have previously put a moratorium in place (like Illinois).
He also said he believes the United States Supreme Court is heavily influenced by public opinion on social issues. For example, witness the recent anti-DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) ruling. Similarly, he noted, public opinion is turning toward abolishing the death penalty in America. Polls indicate that the plurality of Americans (39 percent) say they prefer life in prison without the possibility of parole to having a death penalty, and only 33 percent want it kept in place.
In a word, President Carter gave me hope that someday (soon, hopefully) we can see the death penalty eradicated in Arizona and throughout the United States.
The following letter to the editor ran in the Arizona Daily Star. It’s by DPAA’s vice president.
Time for moratorium on Arizona executions
By Punch Woods
It’s time Arizona declare a moratorium on executions and spend a few years taking a good long look at the death penalty.
With seven Arizona death-row inmates being exonerated since 1989 I wonder how many more should be? And worse, how many have been executed who were innocent?
With currently 124 men and women on death row and seven who have been exonerated, the odds are about 1 to 20 that there are innocent men and women awaiting execution.
The following letter to the editor ran in the Casa Grande Dispatch in March.
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
By the Rev. Anthony F. Fasline and Joan M. Bundy
On the days that the State of Arizona puts to death a prisoner from Death Row—or as it says above the door to the cell block, “Condemned Row”—a small contingent of protesters holds vigil across the street from the prison in Florence, where inside its walls, the execution will occur. Standing in silence, they hold up signs protesting the impending execution. Among them, one reads: “AN EYE FOR AN EYE GIVES US A BLIND SOCIETY.” Another: “KILLING DOESN’T DO IT/CLEMENCY DOES.” Yet another: “DEATH NO/LIFE YES.” The group is comprised of some men, some women, each of different faiths, all of diverse backgrounds. One is an attorney, another a Catholic priest, yet another an artist. Their commonality is their belief that killing a human being is wrong, no matter the circumstances. They see the irony and illogic in the long-held state argument that “we kill to teach that killing is wrong.” Sometimes a passing motorist makes an inquiry or shouts an objection. A kind response is always given, joined with a “God bless you.”
At the time when the lethal injection is scheduled to begin, the small group gathers in a circle, with hands joined, and a prayer is given for the victims of the perpetrator’s crime and for the one being executed, who is also a victim of the crime. Then the group departs in silence.
Most faith communities believe that capital punishment is wrong. The Catholic Church, for example, teaches: “Capital punishment can be legitimately employed but the cases in which the execution of the offender is absolutely necessary are ‘very rare, if practically nonexistent.'” The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church state: “We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings. The United Methodist Church is deeply concerned about crime throughout the world and the value of any life taken by a murder or homicide. We believe all human life is sacred and created by God and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and valuable. When governments implement the death penalty (capital punishment), then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person’s life ends. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives all life new dignity and sacredness. For this reason, we oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.” (The Book of Discipline, 2004).
One may hypothesize a rare case where capital punishment might be employed but one need not hypothesize that prisoners under constant surveillance, by watchful guards, “caged” much of each day, with his or her death sentence commuted to a lifetime in prison, without parole, is not a threat to society and that the common good of society is protected from the perpetrator. Furthermore, many of the offenders committed the crimes when they were very young and/or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The have years to adjust to prison life and many, if not most, have turned their lives around. If they do exhibit assaultive or any other unacceptable behavior, they are retained at the highest necessary level of security.
The demand of “an eye for an eye” has indeed led us to a “blind state.” We who are blinded by our commitment to a modality of punishing and killing need to “see” with open hearts and think not of killing but of clemency. Rav Kook, a Jewish mystic, has written: “It is our right to hate an evil man for his actions but because his deepest self is the image of God it our duty to honor him with love (life).” Does this not lead us into the domain of Divine Mercy? Why do the politicos after many years of “political footballing” put a prisoner to death rather than simply granting clemency so the offender can spend the rest of his or her life being remorseful and gaining redemption? Putting a man to death by political or juridical decision is a blasphemous inflation of human authority, of believing that it is appropriate for humans to decree who shall live and who shall die.
How many of us who are “blinded” to the injustice of killing will stand against capital punishment and opt for clemency?
To find out more about capital punishment and alternatives, come and visit our local chapter of Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona (DPAA), which meets at the clubhouse at Val Vista RV Park at 7 p.m. the third Monday of each month. You may just want to join us in seeking peace and justice for all.
For more information on this local DPAA chapter, please contact us at email@example.com.
The March 4 episode of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, featured Kirk Bloodsworth, the first American who had been sentenced to death row and who was later exonerated (though his sentence had been commuted to life sentences at the time of his exoneration). Bloodsworth is the Advocacy Director for Witness to Innocence.
You can watch the interview by clicking here.
DPAA President Bob Schwartz had a letter to the editor in The Arizona Republic on March 2, 2013, in response to a previous letter by the county attorney. Bob wrote:
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery tells us that those whom Arizona killed in 2012 “earned” their deaths. It seems that the county attorney just invented a new judicial standard. And how did Arizona earn the moral purity needed to carry out the premeditated killing of those men?
More death does not do any service to the dead or their survivors. We all deserve a justice system that is more than sanitized revenge.
You can read the entire letter by clicking here.
Below are remarks that DPAA Advisory Board member Dennis Seavers made upon receiving the 2012 Abolitionist of the Year Award at DPAA’s March 2, 2013 Annual Meeting.
Although all of us here are opposed to the death penalty, each of us has arrived at that view in different ways, perhaps pulled more by the weight of this argument than that one. For some, the racist application of the death penalty may figure prominently; for others, the cost of capital punishment is an overarching concern. Even if you have several reasons that you’re opposed, you may, if you’re like me, have a particular reason that’s closest to your heart, that reflects your outlook on the world. Each of us has a story to tell, and I thought on this occasion that I’d briefly share mine.
One of my favorite contemporary writers is the novelist, short-story writer, and essayist Joyce Carol Oates. Oates writes about what she has called “the human soul caught in the stampede of time.” Oates’s fiction often contains episodes of violence or trauma that affect the characters in ways that significantly shape their lives, sometimes later in life as an echo of that original trauma. As the critics Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have written, “The violence associated with some of [Oates’s] fiction is a result of her sense that ordinary people cannot always articulate or even understand the ways in which they are trapped in the convulsions of history.”
Our actions are often motivated by forces that are not always visible to us, or are not of our choosing, or, if chosen, have consequences that are exceedingly difficult to escape — forces such as genetics or substance abuse or whether we were subjected to violence in childhood. People have a tendency to unwittingly cast about for a larger, public stage on which to project their own psychodramas.
What I’ve seen in my professional and personal experience says that the difference between the lives of most people and those who succumb to violence and crime often stems from factors that are largely, though not completely, beyond our control. If we were to have lived their lives, can we truly say that we would have avoided their mistakes? I believe that we simply don’t forge our own paths in life; outlines of the paths we choose have been shaped and placed there by society, history, family, and the vicissitudes of life.
Some might see this a pessimistic view of human nature that leaves little room for personal responsibility, but I think it’s a realistic view, not the sanguine view of unfettered personal responsibility, or the myth of our lives being entirely forged by our own actions. Responsibility has a social dimension, and we as a society shirk our responsibility by deifying the personal dimension. And, at any rate, holding people responsible for their crimes has never been a shortcoming in our society.
The way people can escape the “convulsions of history” is to understand their own lives, their own stories, as best they can. Their stories have to be told. One of the tragedies of the death penalty is that it silences those stories. And those who justify capital punishment also silence the stories by presenting a distorted view of the perpetrators of crime, as if the entirety of a person’s life could be reduced to the crimes committed. It’s true that the victims’ stories have also been silenced. But rather than restoring the victims’ voices, the death penalty only amplifies the tragedy. The violence of each death — victim and perpetrator — ripples outward, sometimes through generations. The death penalty relies on silence and secrecy, which corrupts, as we saw when our state recently subverted the law to acquire an execution drug.
But the death penalty does not have the last word. It’s into this silence that we insert our own voices of resistance, and our advocacy for life, by working to abolish capital punishment.