Monday, March 27, 2006

Georgians support a culture of life?

After a jury recently handed a life sentence, rather than a death sentence, to a defendant who just happens to be a millionaire, a juror had this to say:
"We thought that life imprisonment without the possibility of parole was enough. We didn't want to be the judge about somebody else's life. We wanted God to be the judge," said juror Debra Klayman.

Wow, that's rich, so to speak. Suddenly, Georgia cares about not judging when it is appropriate to take a life. Funny, those 109 people on death row and the 39 who have been executed in the last 30 years probably beg to differ.

And it probably didn't hurt that the defendant is loaded with dough, allowing him to hire a competent defense team.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Allentown jury opts for life over death

Yet again, a Pennsylvania jury has chosen life in a capital murder trial.
An Allentown man convicted of killing a man who was sitting in a city diner with his girlfriend was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without parole.

A Lehigh County jury deliberated about 20 minutes before rejecting the other possible sentence — the death penalty — for Nicholas Hudson, who was convicted Monday of first-degree murder in the 2001 death of 22-year-old Daniel Cruz of Allentown.

Morning Call: Allentown man gets life sentence for diner slaying

This case reinforces several points we abolitionists have been making. First, the public is losing its taste for death.

The second point has to do with race. Whites are the victims of murder about 50% of the time, but when the death penalty is given, the victim is white more than 80% of the time. I don't know Mr. Cruz's race for certain, but I can guess that Daniel Cruz, son of Javier Cruz, boyfriend of Joeli Maldonado, was probably latino. Apparently, Cruz wasn't white enough for Hudson to get the death sentence.

Regardless, the victim's family and friends said it best at the end.
After the sentence was announced, (Maldonado) hugged (Chief Deputy DA Matthew) Weintraub and wiped her eyes. "I'm just glad it's over," she said...

"I will never get my son back, but I will live with that and knowing he [Hudson] will never hurt anyone again in the community," Javier Cruz said. "Everything is said and done. Even though he didn't get the death penalty, justice was done. It was delayed, but it was done."

Wisdom, clarity, and justice prevail yet again in Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Why is this man smiling?

Because under provisions of the recently approved Patriot Act renewal, Gonzo now has the power to determine if a state's system of representation is adequate, a power previously held by the federal courts. If he finds that counsel for the poor is just peachy, capital cases go on the fast track to execution.
Critics of the new measure fear that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a strong death penalty proponent, will allow the faster appeals in many states that have failed to meet basic standards for competent defense representation. They also worry that the short timelines will deter private attorneys from taking capital cases in federal court, and could leave some people on death row without counsel altogether.

Whither the republic...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Book review: Executed on a Technicality

In a previous post, I noted that we abolitionists are well aware of the injustices around the death penalty but sometimes need to hear the stories again to remember the horror that is capital punishment. It is, at times, easy to get caught up in the nuts and bolts of activism.

Executed on a Technicality: Lethal injustice on America's death row by David R. Dow, law professor at the University of Houston, is that wake-up call, that jolt, that splash of cold water in the face. The stories Dow tells are horrifying, and he lays out in great detail the ways that all three branches of government and both political parties have let down the cause of justice.

I found it especially helpful that Dow explains the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which was passed by a Republican-controlled Congress and signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton. The piece of the law that sticks with me is that a defendant cannot raise an issue in federal court if it was not raised in state court. Thus, if a defendant is saddled with an incompetent attorney during state appeals or new evidence appears after state appeals are exhausted, this cannot be presented at the federal level.

The law is a nightmare and has probably led to the execution of an innocent person/people.

It's hard to say which story sticks with me the most. One that stands out is the Mexican national who was held in Texas on murder, under dubious evidence. Mexican police took his parents into custody and threatened to torture them if he did not confess to the Texas murder. He confessed and included a statement that his parents had nothing to do with it, which would be an odd statement if a person didn't know that his parents were being held in Mexico.

He was convicted and went insane on death row, to the point that he stopped recognizing his lawyers, had loud outbursts, and spread feces in his cell.

I have one beef with Dow. Throughout the book, he has a schizophrenic relationship with the issue of innocence. He tells compelling stories of likely innocence but several times makes statements that imply that the innocence issue should be de-emphasized.

Most of us are not in this movement simply because innocent people are sentenced to death. We're in it for all of the other reasons- race, injustice against the poor, creating more violence in our society.

But the simple fact of the matter is that the innocence issue has moved the public to a newfound skepticism of the death penalty in a way that the other issues did not in the 24 years from the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976 to the Illinois moratorium in 2000. Innocence has opened up relucant supporters of the death penalty to all of our other arguments against it.

Dow's book is a must read. It took me more than two months to read it because I could only read about 10-15 pages at a time. It is a real-life horror story. He deserves props for writing it and also for dedicating himself as a lawyer to this difficult but noble cause.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Forgiveness, not killing, is an act of strength

Reverend Walter Everett of Lewisburg experienced a life trauma that most of us will never have to face- the violent death of a loved one.

In 1987, Everett's 24-year-old son, Scott, was murdered in a random shooting, and he talked about his experience on February 28 during a public gathering at Grace United Methodist Church in Harrisburg.

"A son or daughter, you should never have to bury," he said.

Everett, who is a member of the board of directors of Murder Victims Families for Human Rights, found a way not only to forgive his son's killer, Mike Carlucci, but even befriend him. When Carlucci expressed his regret and his wish that he could bring Scott back at his sentencing hearing, Everett said, "I felt the nudge of God."

"Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the first step of the healing of the person doing the forgiving."

The event in Harrisburg was co-sponsored by Central Pennsylvanians to Abolish the Death Penalty and A United Methodist Witness in Pennsylvania.

Everett is convinced that the death penalty offers no healing for victims' families.

"People wait and wait and wait for an execution," he said, "and when it happens, they say, 'Why don’t I feel any better?'"