Archive | death penalty

01 September 2010 ~ Comments Off

El Paso to Host Death Row Exonoree Juan Melendez

Death row survivor Juan Melendez will share his gut-wrenching story of wrongful conviction and ultimate exoneration with audiences throughout El Paso from September 25-27, 2010.   This bilingual tour is sponsored by El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty (EPADP), a chapter of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

A native of Puerto Rico, Juan spent 17 years, 8 months, and 1 day on Florida’s death row for a crime he did not commit.  He was exonerated and released from death row on January 3, 2002 after the discovery of a long-forgotten transcript of a taped confession by the real killer.  No physical evidence ever linked Juan to the crime, and his conviction and death sentence hinged on the testimony of two questionable witnesses (one of those witnesses later recanted and the other is deceased).

Mr. Melendez will be visiting West Texas at a critical time, as concerns about the likely wrongful execution of Cameron Todd Willingham and ongoing exonerations continue to call into question the reliability and fairness of our state’s death penalty system. Since 1973, 138 people – including 11 Texans – have been exonerated from death rows nationwide due to evidence of their wrongful conviction.  Mr. Melendez is the 99th person on this list.

EPADP Coordinator Karen Peissinger-Venhaus writes: “We are very excited about Juan Melendez coming to El Paso for the ¡La Pena de Muerte No Mas! speaking tour!  In addition to hearing Juan’s compelling talk, attendees will have the opportunity to write a postcard to their Texas representative in support of death penalty repeal, and to register to vote.  Not only is this event a great outreach and education opportunity, it maintains the momentum towards repeal of the death penalty in Texas.”

All events are free and open to the public.  See the Tour Schedule and spread the word.

El Pasoans: There’s still time to schedule an event with your faith community, class, or civic group! Contact Karen at elpaso@tcadp.org or 915-740-7076.  You can also support the tour with a generous donation to TCADP.

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01 September 2010 ~ 1 Comment

Death Penalty Issue Part of Respect Life Month in the Catholic Church

According to the Death Penalty Information Center and Catholics Against Capital Punishment, for the first time in recent years the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ annual Respect Life Program will urge participants to make opposition to the use of the death penalty a significant part of their efforts to carry out the Church’s pro-life teachings. The Respect Life Program takes place throughout the month of October.  In their 1980 Statement on Capital Punishment, the U.S. Bishops voiced their opposition to the death penalty and affirmed the Catholic Church’s belief in the sanctity of all human life.

The USCCB’s Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities has developed a packet of materials for parishes and other groups to use throughout the month.  These include articles on key issues, homily notes, intercessions, and a liturgy guide.  Materials are available in English and Spanish and can be downloaded from http://www.usccb.org/prolife/programs/rlp/2010/.   TCADP urges all of its Catholic members to consider working within your parishes to organize an activity or program on the death penalty in October.  Please let us know how we can help your efforts!

Read an article from Kansas City – St. Joseph Bishop Robert W. Finn: “Divine Mercy and the Death Penalty,” which is part of the packet of materials.

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23 August 2010 ~ Comments Off

RESOURCES: New DPIC Podcast Explores Victims’ Families and the Death Penalty

The latest edition of the Death Penalty Information Center’s series of podcasts, DPIC on the Issues, is now available for download. This podcast, Victims and the Death Penalty, explores the issues faced by murder victims’ families when capital punishment is being considered. Generally, this series of podcasts offers brief, informative discussions of key death penalty issues.  Other recent episodes include discussions on Representation and Race. Click here to download the latest episode of the podcast on Victims. You can also subscribe through iTunes to receive automatic updates when new episodes are posted and receive access to all eight episodes. Other audio and video resources can be found on DPIC’s Multimedia page.

(DPIC, Aug. 20, 2010).  See also Victims.

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18 August 2010 ~ Comments Off

Save the Date: Austin Panel Discussion

On Tuesday, September 28th, 7 PM, at St. John’s United Methodist Church, 2140 Allandale Road, Austin there will be a panel discussion about capital punishment featuring three individuals who view it from very different and unique perspectives.

The panel members include:

Professor Rob Owen, UT Law School and Co-Director of the Capital Punishment Center. Rob has defended people facing the death penalty at every level of state and federal court system, including arguing successfully at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reverend Sidney Hall, Senior Pastor, Trinity United Methodist Church, Austin. Rev. Hall leads a congregation that describes itself as inclusive and that is active in social justice issues.

Michael Heath, murder victim family. Michael brings a voice and perspective to the issue of capital punishment that answers the challenge, “…but what if it were your family member…?”

Please put this date on your calendar, invite  friends and plan to be with us for this interesting event.

For more info email austin@tcadp.org.

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02 August 2010 ~ 2 Comments

El Pasoans Against the Death Penalty – August 2010 Newsletter

Learn more about the El Paso TCADP chapter in their August newsletter.

The newsletter includes info on the Juan Melendez Speaking tour scheduled for September, upcoming events and more!

A link is found in the Chapter News section…

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30 July 2010 ~ 2 Comments

TX Forensic Science Commission Admits “Flaws” in Willingham Case

There has been a great deal of media coverage of the Texas Forensic Science Commission’s meeting last Friday, July 23, 2010, during which a subcommittee said that arson investigators in the case of Cameron Todd Willinghamused flawed science but were not negligent” in an investigation that led to his controversial 2004 execution.  According to CNN, “the panel declared that investigators were using the science available to them at the time, even though it was flawed.  The board said it would present its final report for a vote at a meeting in October.”  (CNN, “Texas state board says arson investigators used flawed science,” July 23, 2010).

According to the Dallas Morning News, “Texas Forensic Science Commission members said they believed there was insufficient evidence to establish whether investigators botched their 1991 investigation of the fire that killed Cameron Todd Willingham’s three daughters.”  This determination starkly contradicts nine fire experts who have examined the case since the original conviction and found that the evidence did not support the finding of arson.

State Senator Rodney Ellis (Houston) issued the following statement in response to the proceedings:

“I am happy to hear that the Forensic Science Commission is moving
forward on the Todd Willingham investigation, but unfortunately the
Commission is off track in terms of what it should be investigating.
It was painfully apparent that many FSC members believe that flawed
science was used in the Willingham conviction, but the FSC does not
seem interested in looking at the bigger picture: When did the State
Fire Marshal start using modern arson science and did the State Fire
Marshal commit professional negligence or misconduct when it failed to
inform the courts, prosecutors, the Board of Pardons and Parole, and
the Governor that flawed arson science had been used to convict
hundreds of defendants?…”

Here’s a sample of some of the editorials and columns that have appeared:

Dallas Morning News – “Official ‘oops’ in the Willingham case?”, July 26, 2010

Houston Chronicle – “Forensic panel must resist chair’s efforts at sabotage” by Barry Scheck and Patricia Willingham Cox, July 20, 2010

Austin American-Statesman – “Science – like death – has its limits“, July 27, 2010

Houston Chronicle, “Questions of Innocence,” July 28, 2010

Houston Chronicle, “Of science, witches and arson trials,” by Rick Casey, July 28, 2010

Read more.

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21 July 2010 ~ Comments Off

Retired NYC Police Investigator Voices Concerns about Death Penalty

Today’s Hartford (Connecticut) Courant features an excellent op-ed from Terrence P. Dwyer,  a retired investigator with the New York State Police, Bureau of Criminal Investigation.  In “More than Reasonable Doubt About Death Penalty” (July 21, 2010), Dwyer expresses his concerns about the risk of convicting and executing the innocent.  He also voices concern about the impact of the death penalty on murder victims’ family members.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Clearly, by keeping the death penalty in place, we run the unacceptable risk of executing the innocent. Those of us in law enforcement do our best to take the guilty off the streets, and more often than not we get it right. But in a world where mistakes are inevitable, the death penalty has no place.

With the death penalty as a statutory sentence, though, some prosecutors seek it and set in motion a never-ending legal process. This is sad to watch. Everyone in a capital trial — the prosecutors, defense attorneys, investigators and judge — knows that it will take decades before the case is resolved. But prosecutors still go for the death penalty, and victims’ families are left to endure endless trials and appeals.

Though some want to shorten the legal process in capital cases, that is not going to happen. Because of past wrongful convictions, the courts have mandated safeguards. Capital cases will always be a marathon.”

Read more from this important voice of opposition to the death penalty.

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02 July 2010 ~ Comments Off

The death penalty: Still arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory

July 2 marked the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Gregg v. Georgia (1976), which upheld the newly crafted death penalty statutes of several states (including that of Texas) and paved the way for the resumption of executions. Just four years earlier, the Court had ruled in Furman v. Georgia (1972) that the death penalty system, as administered at that time, was arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory – as random as being struck by lightning. With the Gregg decision, however, the justices reversed course and took the position that the death penalty did not offend “the evolving standards of decency which mark the progress of a maturing society.”

In reality, the death penalty is no less arbitrary or any fairer today than it was in 1972. To date, 138 individuals (including 11 in Texas) have been released from death rows nationwide due to evidence of their wrongful conviction. Although the State of Texas accounts for more than one-third of all U.S. executions since 1977, more than half of all Texas counties have not sent a single person to death row. And cases like those of Hank Skinner, Claude Jones, and Cameron Todd Willingham continue to raise doubts about the reliability of the criminal justice system – so much so that according to a national poll conducted earlier this month by Rasmussen Reports, 73% of Americans are at least “somewhat concerned” that some people may be executed for crimes they did not commit, including 40% who are “very concerned.”

These realities led the American Law Institute last fall to withdraw a section of its Model Penal Code concerned with capital punishment because of the “current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment.”

Such concerns have impacted members of the Supreme Court, as well. Retiring Justice John Paul Stevens was part of the majority in the Gregg decision. His views on the death penalty evolved tremendously over his three decades as justice, however, and he became a consistent vote in favor of narrowing the application of the death penalty and, more recently, in questioning its very utility. In 2008, Justice Stevens wrote:

“… I have relied on my own experience in reaching the conclusion that the imposition of the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes.” (Baze v. Rees, April 16, 2008)

A growing number of religious leaders, murder victim family members, criminal justice professionals, elected officials, and concerned citizens in Texas have reached the same conclusion and are calling for an end to this arbitrary, capricious, and error-prone form of punishment. Texas District Attorneys are seeking the death penalty – and Texas juries are returning it – far less often. In fact, the rate of death penalty sentences handed down annually has decreased 60% over the last 6 years.

Texas has other means to punish the truly guilty and protect society without resorting to state killing. The alternative of Life in Prison without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) enables our state to punish guilty offenders, protect society, and guard against the risk of convicting or executing the innocent. LWOP was not an available option in Texas in 1976. It is today.

Our “maturing” society does not need the death penalty, with its arbitrariness and its attendant possibilities for mistakes. It is time to do away with this fatally flawed and unnecessary punishment and repeal the death penalty.

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