Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The dastardly death penalty

This is just weird. Here is a radio report on Florida's lethal injection issue. The report itself is a typical radio story, but it takes a turn for the bizarre when you hear the voice of the member of the execution team who testified before the state commission studying the issue.

It is the audio version of the black hood.

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 10, 2007

PA's southern neighbors

The governors of Maryland and Virginia, both abolitionists, are both finding themselves entangled in the death penalty. The most promising activity is in Maryland.
(Maryland Governor Martin) O'Malley, who was sworn in last month, has pledged to work with lawmakers to repeal Maryland's death penalty -- and could effectively halt executions through the end of his tenure even without their support, given a recent court ruling.

Pennsylvania sticks out like a sore thumb in the mid-Atlantic region. Consider:

New York: abolition by default. A court struck down the death penalty, and although the legislature could easily remedy the problem the court cited, it has refused to do so.
Maryland: abolitionist governor, moratorium, serious push to repeal
New Jersey: abolitionist governor, moratorium, serious push to repeal
West Virginia: no death penalty
Ohio: abolitionist governor and an attorney general who has questioned the application of the death penalty
Pennsylvania: *crickets chirp*

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Four more years with Ed

Today Governor Ed Rendell was inaugurated for his second term here in PA. Four years ago, many of us were optimistic about the prospects for a death penalty moratorium in a Rendell administration. (Granted, after four years of the Ridge-Schweiker administration, the bar was pretty low.) During the 2002 campaign, Rendell stated that he would support a moratorium if the evidence showed that a suspension was warranted.

Six weeks later, on March 3, 2003, the PA Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias released its report (PDF). The committee called for a moratorium on executions due to concerns with bias against minorities and the poor.

And Ed Rendell did nothing. In fact, he told ABC27 News in Harrisburg that he still had not seen the evidence for a moratorium...three weeks after the report was released.

In January, 2004, Nicholas Yarris of Philadelphia was released from prison after 22 years on death row for a crime someone else committed in Delaware County. Nick was so broken after his decades on death row that he was ready to accept execution until a DNA test saved his life.

And Ed Rendell did nothing.

In November, 2005, Harold Wilson of Philadelphia won acquittal at retrial after 16 years on death row. DNA evidence from the scene did not come from Harold or any of the victims, indicating the presence of another person, the possible assailant.

And Ed Rendell did nothing.

At some point in the next four years, it will be legacy-building time for Ed Rendell. I shook his hand at the Governor's Mansion after inaugural day 2003 and told him that something needed to be done about the death penalty. He said, "We will. I promise."

The only thing Ed Rendell has done about the death penalty is sign 63 death warrants. What will his legacy will be? When the day arrives that we ultimately end capital punishment in PA, will Ed Rendell be remembered as someone who let history pass him by? The next four years will tell.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The new speaker of the PA House

The media coverage of new PA House Speaker Dennis O'Brien (R-Phila) has been largely positive. If you never heard of O'Brien before yesterday, you're now learning that he is a friend of organized labor, a "people person," and has "a passion for making the lives of people better" (the last one according to Governor Rendell).

All of that may true, as I've had little reason to notice Rep. O'Brien. He might be really great in a lot of ways. But here is what I do know about him. His stances on the Innocence Commission Act and the death penalty for those with mental retardation do not indicate a man who is fair or a decent person. His positions on those two issues lead me to question who he is.

The ICA passed the Senate unanimously in April. It would establish a commission to study the reasons why innocent people are convicted of crimes and then make recommendations for legislation to prevent it from happening in the future.

But after passing the Senate without a single dissenting vote, the bill sat in O'Brien's judiciary committee. It never saw the light of day. O'Brien couldn't be bothered to allow the state to study why innocent people are convicted.

Does this sound like someone who is fair?

On the death penalty and persons with mental retardation, O'Brien defied the disabilities community (you know, the people who actually work with folks with disabilities on a regular basis) to side with Attorney General Tom Corbett and the PA District Attorneys Association. The disabilities community, including the Arc of PA and the Disabilities Law Project, supported the process in which a defendant's mental capacity would be determined by the judge before trial. The DAs and Corbett believe the jury should make that determination after they've convicted the defendant of first degree homicide. This procedure was called "clearly prejudicial against the defendant" by Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), who is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

This might be a bit of hyperbole, but O'Brien believes it's fine that innocent people are convicted of crimes and it's fine to execute persons with mental retardation. Ok, of course he doesn't believe that, but what can one be expected to believe in light of these stances he has taken?

This jury is still out on just how "fair" Dennis O'Brien really is.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Have death penalty, need Catholics

The Catholic News Service picked up on DPIC's 2006 Year End Report. It's important that this discussion is happening. If we are to move forward on capital punishment in PA, we need the Catholics making some noise about it.

Labels: ,

Friday, December 22, 2006

The power of peace

The Appalachian Trail killer, Paul David Crews, was resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole yesterday in Perry County after the district attorney's office decided to stop fighting the appeals. Crews had a legitimate claim for a least a new sentencing hearing since his trial attorney failed to present evidence of an abusive childhood.

What struck me as I read about this, though, was not the information about the defendant but the info about the families of the two victims. Here are the first four paragraphs from today's Patriot News story:
NEW BLOOMFIELD - The father of one of Paul David Crews' victims forgives him for raping and killing his daughter.

The mother of Crews' other victim said she doesn't hate him.

In May 1991, Crews, a drifter from South Carolina, was sentenced to die by lethal injection for killing Geoffrey Hood, 26, of Signal Mountain, Tenn., and Molly LaRue, 25, of Shaker Heights, Ohio, on the Appalachian Trail in Perry County.

"I am here today to offer you forgiveness for what you have done," Jim LaRue told Crews yesterday. "Peace be with you, brother. Peace be with you."

Later in the article, it again comes back to Mr. LaRue:
Jim LaRue said he hoped Crews eventually talks and gives some insight into his mind as a way to give his life meaning. He compared the good it might do to his daughter's job helping troubled children.

"She would have wanted that from you," said LaRue, who opposes the death penalty. "You are a gold mine of critical information that needs to be unearthed."

As a father, the idea of losing my only child to violent crime is incomprehensible. And yet I am always struck by people like Mr. LaRue and my good friend Walt Everett, who have found a way to find peace after the deaths of their children.

Death penalty supporters sometimes pull out the line that goes something like, "You would feel differently if someone in your family was killed." I don't know what I would feel in that situation, but I would hope that the best of me, my buddha nature, would shine through.

There are a few well-known victims' families, who shall remain nameless, whose public personas are that of anger and rage. Of course, those emotions would inevitably be a part of the grieving process, but I feel sad for those folks that they still feel that way (or at least portray it publicly) 25 years later.

Jim LaRue, Walt Everett, and victims' family members like them have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration from me.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Altering our thinking: What if you support the death penalty in PA?

We abolitionists can get quite frustrated with the state of the death penalty in Pennsylvania. Fourth largest death row in the country. Six death row exonerations. A minority death row rate at 70%. The nation's "deadliest DA" in Philadelphia. It's enough to make an abolitionist glum.

But what about supporters of the death penalty? What are they thinking right about now? Death sentences have dropped significantly. There were seven in PA in 2005, in contrast to the 21 given out in 1994. In the entire modern era of the death penalty (post-1978), there have been exactly three executions in the Commonwealth, and they were all for defendants who had given up their appeals. It's been seven years since we had an execution.

Let's face it: As noted last week by the blog of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, we're winning. It doesn't always feel like it. Sometimes it feels down right frustrating. But time and justice are on our side.

Last spring when the PA House was deciding what to do about the death penalty and persons with mental retardation, the Attorney General was lobbying, in person, for the version supported by the District Attorneys, which is opposed by the disabilities community. Think about that: The top attorney in the Commonwealth was walking the halls to lobby for an obscure procedural matter. Why? Because he knows, and the DAs know, that capital punishment is a dying institution in PA. If we had won on this issue, it would be another nail in the coffin of the death penalty, and the AG and the DAs want to do everything they can to stop it.

We're winning.

Labels: ,

Monday, November 13, 2006

What's next on the scale after "bizarre"?

Strange things tend to happen around the Mumia Abu-Jamal case, but the 59th Ward Republican Committee in Philadelphia may take the cake:
59th Republican Ward Executive Committee files charges against cities of Paris and suburb for "glorifying" infamous Philadelphia cop killer


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Justice for Dennis Counterman. Sort of.

Dennis Counterman is finally a free man. He absolutely deserves to finally be free and no one can question his decision to take a plea.

I can't help but feel a bit melancholy, though, that Dennis was forced to plea to charges for a crime that never happened. The Lehigh County DA had him over a barrel, knowing full well that prosecutors could manipulate the facts again to win a conviction, and Dennis and his attorneys certainly could not trust the justice system after what has happened to him for the last 18 years.

You come here looking for justice and that's what you find. Just us.

Morning Call op-ed: Counterman case highlights death penalty problems
CounterPunch, Joey DeRaymond of Lehigh Valley Committee Against State Killing: A case of injustice in Pennsylvania

Labels: ,

Saturday, October 07, 2006

"A faith unshaken"

This is important enough to cross-post with Nasty Little Man and The Central Pennsylvania Abolitionist.

Here's a commentary from Wisconsin on the Amish school shooting tragedy that I found particularly inspiring:
But the Amish will not respond with anger or hatred. This tragedy will strengthen their faith and their resolve in maintaining their way of life. It may make them more wary of the "English" world, but that caution will not manifest itself in resentment or revenge. Those words are not even in their vocabulary.

The Amish are people who put their faith into action, even in the most horrific of circumstances. The very foundation of their church (and mine) is pacifism and withstanding persecution for their beliefs. There is no doubt in my mind that if the gunman had lived, the families of his Amish victims would have asked the court to spare him the death penalty.

And the AP is reporting that about half of the mourners at the funeral of the shooter, Charles Roberts, were Amish:
His wife, Marie, and their three small children looked on as Roberts was buried beside the pink, heart-shaped grave of the infant daughter whose death nine years ago apparently haunted him, said Bruce Porter, a fire department chaplain from Colorado who attended the service.

About half of perhaps 75 mourners on hand were Amish.

"It's the love, the forgiveness, the heartfelt forgiveness they have toward the family. I broke down and cried seeing it displayed," said Porter, who had come to Pennsylvania to offer what help he could. He said Marie Roberts was also touched.

"She was absolutely deeply moved, by just the love shown," Porter said.

Labels: ,