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Wednesday, May 31, 2006


It's Not About Justice

Yesterday the Memphis Criminal Court rejected Sedley Alley's appeal for the release of DNA evidence which can prove, once and for all, whether or not he is guilty of the 1985 murder of Suzanne Marie Collins. But Judge Higgs went even further than rejecting the argument. The judge refused to even hear the testimony of two expert witnesses flown in from out of state by the defense.

Gary Harmor, an expert on DNA testing from California, was prepared to testify about the specific items in the state's possession, what sort of DNA could be extracted and tested from them, and what such DNA would prove. Seems pretty relevant to a decision as to whether or not DNA evidence should be released, right? Apparently not.

The defense also had a private investigator who has been looking into other possible culprits as well as misleading and withheld evidence. Collins had a boyfriend that she was leaving who matched the initial description of her kidnapper, but the police did no investigation of him. Such testimony could certainly help point to the problems in the conviction and explain why the clear cut answer provided by DNA testing was needed, don't you think? Apparently Judge Higgs disagreed.

There is currently no execution date set for Sedley Alley, but we don't know how long that will last. If such a date is set, the state of Tennessee may well execute an innocent man. But regardless of what happens over the next few days, it should be clear to everyone at this point that the capital appeals process is not about justice. Is is justice to allow a man to be executed without even testing all available evidence? Is is justice to refuse to hear from experts who have been studying the case?

But then that presupposes that what the state is interested in is justice. When talking about the death penalty, I've seen no evidence that that is the case.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


executions seem to be more important to the news media than to the general public...

ever watch larry brinton's word on the street commentary on nashville's nbc affiliate wsmv-tv?

while i'm still trying to wrap my mind around the angle of the hypotenuse from which larry came on this opinion piece - it's the equivalent of a video blog - he did say something very interesting in the process...

"...executions seem to be more important to the news media than to the general public..."

that sounds like the right angle to me - even if larry and i are coming from different hypotenuses on this one...consider the recent 2005 virginia gubernatorial campaign...

the winner, democrat tim kaine, a catholic, opposed the death penalty on religious/moral grounds (though he was very clear that as governor he would carry out all of the state of virginia's laws), and the loser, republican jerry kilgore, went out of his way to make his radical support of capital punishment a defining issue in the election - an election that in the end was not even close - virginia voters, roughly the equivalent of tennessee voters, said that the death penalty was a non-issue...

is there a lesson in that race for tennessee politicians???

we think so...check out larry's piece...

peace out - <3


Remembering a Veteran

Just before the long Memorial Day weekend, the state of Tennessee decided to remember a veteran in a special way: with a death sentence. Daryl Holton received a death date of September 19th.

Holton, a veteran of the Gulf War, has been on death row since 1999, and is currently attempting to give up his appeals. Why would someone do this? Perhaps the answer lies in Daryl Holton's serious mental illness. Holton suffers from serious depression with psychosis. In 1997, he murdered his four children because he believed that, since he and his wife had split up, that the children's lives were ruined since they had to now grow up in a broken home.

Holton's mental illness cannot be questioned. He has a long history of suicide attempts, and was in a military psychiatric facilities for a month. At his initial trial, Holton, driven by his mental illness, made all the decisions, rather than allowing for the legal expertise of his counsel to make decisions.

The idea that we could execute a man who is so clearly mentally ill, perhaps who even wants to die, is shocking. Sadly, Daryl Holton's situation is far from unique. Right here in Tennessee, we have several veterans, including Gregory Thompson and Abu-Ali Abdur Rahman, who suffer from mental illness and yet sit on death row. When we honor our veterans, we need to remember those who suffer from serious mental disorders as well. People who suffer from mental illness need treatment, not executions.

Monday, May 29, 2006


now...124 exonerations

you may have missed this exoneration that occurred almost simultaneously with the temporary reprieve of sedley alley...

DNA Testing Exonerates New York Man Who Might Have Been Executed

After spending more than a decade in jail for a crime he did not commit, Douglas Arthur Warney has been exonerated and will be freed from prison in New York based on DNA evidence. Police maintained that Warney had confessed to the crime. Warney is a poorly educated man with a history of delusions and suffering from an advanced case of AIDS. He originally faced the death penalty for the 1996 stabbing murder in Rochester, but was ultimately convicted of second-degree homicide and sentenced to 25 years in jail.

After spending more than a decade in jail for a crime he did not commit, Douglas Arthur Warney has been exonerated and will be freed from prison in New York based on DNA evidence. Police maintained that Warney had confessed to the crime. Warney is a poorly educated man with a history of delusions and suffering from an advanced case of AIDS. He originally faced the death penalty for the 1996 stabbing murder in Rochester, but was ultimately convicted of second-degree homicide and sentenced to 25 years in jail. Prosecutors tried to block recent DNA tests that revealed that blood found at the crime scene could not have come from Warney. The test concluded that the blood belonged to another man, Eldred L. Johnson, Jr., who has since confessed to being the sole killer in the crime and is in prison for a different killing and three other stabbings.

Though no forensic evidence linked Warney to the crime, prosecutors used his false confession - which defense attorneys say was based on facts fed to him by a homicide detective - to overcome weaknesses in the case. During Warney's trial, prosecutors said that blood found at the crime that did not match the victim or Warney could have belonged to an accomplice, but that Warney was the killer based on his detailed confession. Despite providing details regarding the crime, Warney's confession was also filled with inconsistencies. According to trial testimony, Mr. Warney told the detective he had driven to the victim's house in his brother's car, although the brother had not owned the car for six years before the murder; he said he disposed of his bloody clothes after the murder in a garbage can, but none were found in a search of the can, which had been buried in snow from the day of the crime; he also said he had an accomplice, naming a relative who, it turned out, was in a secure rehabilitation center.

Warney joins a long list of people who have falsely confessed to crimes they did not commit. "The cops created a false confession by feeding nonpublic details to Doug. Their conduct was criminal, plain and simple," notes Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project, one of the attorneys representing Warney. Based on the results of DNA testing and Johnson's confession to the crime, prosecutors have agreed that the charges against Warney, who is now in a wheelchair, should be dismissed. (New York Times, May 16, 2006). See Innocence.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


but for the love of a sister...

is a possible title for this stage in the life of paul dennis reid...

i moved to tennessee in july of 1996 and the tragic killings of 7 fast food workers in nashville and clarksville soon dominated the news on my television ... eventually paul dennis reid was arrested, convicted and given death sentences for these killings...

it was soon apparent, and documented, that paul reid had serious mental health problems the symptoms of which you can gleam if you read the 92 page hand-written letter he wrote and are part of the court records in his case...

reid has a fatal date with the state of tennessee of june 28th but his sister, linda martiniano, has filed a request of the court to name her as a "next friend", that would give her standing to intercede on his behalf because he is mentally incompetent...

this petition reveals once again the hidden victims of capital punishment, the family members of the condemned, who are "asked" to become survivors of a homicide victim as a sadly ironic counterpoint to the family members of random murder victims (or survivors of homicide victims)...

the tennessean story is below and tcask will be blogging more about this case, mental illness and the death penalty, and the failure of capital punishment as a policy response for murder victim's family members ... peace out - <3

Sister fights for killer Reid's life
She seeks to carry on appeals process that he has given up Paul Dennis Reid

Staff Writer
Published: Saturday, 05/27/06

The sister of seven-time convicted murderer Paul Dennis Reid, who is scheduled to be executed next month after refusing to sign legal papers that would continue his appeals, has picked up the legal battle on behalf of her brother, seeking to stop the execution.

Reid, 48, terrorized Middle Tennessee in 1997, committing a string of fast-food robberies that left seven workers dead and another injured. He is scheduled to die by lethal injection June 28 for the stabbing deaths of two Clarksville Baskin-Robbins employees.

On Tuesday, Reid's sister, Linda Martiniano, along with a state defense attorney and an investigator, filed a petition in Montgomery County Circuit Court asking a judge to stay the execution. The sister and the other petitioners want the court to designate them as "next friends" - people who know him and are acting in his best interest - because, they say, he is mentally incompetent.

Earlier this month, the Tennessee Supreme Court said Reid and another inmate could give up their appeals if they wished. But the court also allowed a mechanism for people close to them to file the appeals on behalf of prisoners who are not competent.

The legal documents say Reid is mentally ill, brain damaged and believes that he is being monitored and tormented by a military government. Reid also believes he was framed for the murders, the papers state.

"Actually, Paul Reid is at the point where he's deteriorated so badly, there is no decision he can make free from his illness," said Kelly Gleason, one of his attorneys.

One victims' rights advocate, however, said Reid should be allowed to give up his appeals.

"He should be allowed to make the decision for himself," said Verna Wyatt of You Have the Power. "He was competent when he committed the murders and he tried to cover it up and when he eluded police for several months."

Saturday, May 27, 2006


not fit for a dog

the tennessean editorializes today that the us supreme court will still have to address whether or not lethal injection is not "fit for a dog" (brad maclean, one of abu-ali's attorneys) even though it declined to review the lethal injection protocol appeal of abu-ali abdur'rahman. the editorial correctly notes that tennessee attorney general paul summers made a misleading statement when he claimed that the refusal to hear the case confirms that lethal injection is not cruel and unusual ... we at tcask reiterate the idea of speaking truth to power ... here's the editorial ... peace out - <3

Lethal-injection flaw lingers

Published: Friday, 05/26/06

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear a Tennessee case about its lethal injection protocol in executions, but that does not settle the issue, and it certainly doesn't bring an end to similar cases.

The nation's high court refused, without comment, to accept the case of death-row inmate Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman. But other cases across the nation will keep the issue alive because of compelling arguments as to whether the method involves an unconstitutional use of cruel and unusual punishment. In fact, another Tennessee death-row inmate, Sedley Alley, is raising the same issue in court appeals.

As more is learned about the protocol, the harder it is to defend. When Bradley MacLean, one of Abdur'Rahman's lawyers, said the protocol "is not fit for a dog," he wasn't being flippant; the drug Pavulon used in the protocol is forbidden from use on animals.

Increasingly, the lethal-injection protocol is being questioned because of concerns that it only masks pain and suffering. Pavulon, which is used after a drug that is supposed to render the inmate unconscious, is a paralyzing chemical; the third drug actually stops the heart. The legal challenges to the protocol claim that rendering a person unable to move, then injecting him with a painful substance is cruel punishment and therefore unconstitutional.

After the court's decision to not consider the case of Abdur'Rahman was announced, state Attorney General Paul Summers said the decision confirmed that the lethal injection protocol isn't cruel and unusual punishment. That isn't true. As MacLean points out, the court said nothing about the merits of the case. Summers' remarks are misleading. The validity of the argument has not diminished.

At some point, the Supreme Court will have to deal substantively with lethal injections. When that time comes, the constitutional question cannot be ignored. •

Thursday, May 25, 2006


The News is Out - Our Blog Rocks!

To begin, a mea culpa. Earlier this week, we received a distinguished honor, which really is as much due to you, our readers, as to anything that we do here. And yet, we failed to share it with all of you, so today, we make amends.

What we all knew already has finally been publicly acknowledged. The TCASK blog has been named one of Tennessee's best blogs! This highly prestigious award, I tear up a little just talking about it, is a wonderful acknowledgement of all the work we've put in, and I'd like to thank my parents, who always supported me, my high school English teacher who insisted I complete writing assignments, and my wonderful co-poster the Tennessee Dude, a constant inspiration. Finally, we have to thank you, our readers, without whom this blog would not exist. It is due to you that we get to proudly place the best
blog emblem on our posts. Thank you, Tennessee!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Political Power in the Bank

It came as a shock. Here we were in the office, having just returned from setting up a tent in preparation for a vigil during the execution of Sedley Alley, and all of a sudden the Governor issued a reprieve. True a temporary reprieve, true he didn't release physical evidence for DNA testing, but a reprieve nonetheless. Sedley Alley would not be killed by the state that night.

Now, I'd love to believe that the Governor did so because he was moved by idea of extinguishing a human life. I'd like to believe that his sense of justice overrode all political considerations and compelled him to issue the reprieve, but even I am not that naive.

So what did it?

Well, I've gotta say that a part of the reason is that it became politically dangerous for him not to. We successfully mobilized enough people to shape public opinion toward favoring a stay. Clearly that's something we'd like to do more often (if we have to have execution dates set at all), so we want to know how we did it.

A large part is finding the right message, in this case, the fact that there was DNA evidence that had never been tested. But a greater question was how did we mobilize around that message. One of the best tools that we added to our arsenal for this execution was phonebanking. The Sunday before the execution we made calls to well over 1000 people all around the state asking them to call the Governor, and, lo and behold, he had hundreds of messages on his machine when he came into work on Monday morning, and lo and behold again, the next evening he issued the reprieve.

So what made our calls so effective? How did we do it? First, we had a collection of terrific volunteers willing to sacrifice their Sunday evening to make calls. It's impossible to overstate how important these people are to our efforts. Second we developed a tight phone script that each caller had, so even people who don't feel to comfortable speaking about a case could participate; all they had to do was read. And third, a crucial part of that phone script was a concrete and simple ask to the people receiving the calls: "Please, when we hang up, call the Governor and tell him to stay the execution and release the physical evidence for DNA testing." The ask is simple, we gave people the phone number and told them what to say, easy for them to accomplish, they were probably going to get an answering machine so they could just read the message, and immediate, witness "please do it right when we hang up" and the fact that the execution was 48 hours away. These factors, directness, ease, and immediacy, make a good ask, and generated a lot of calls.

There are two other, institutional concerns that really benefited us. The first was a long term commitment to building our database, so when we went to make calls we had hundreds and hundreds of supporters all around the state that we could contact and activate. The second was a relationship with the Nashville Peace and Justice Center. The NPJC has five phone lines which they generously allowed us to use to make calls. Even better would be for organizations to find a Union Local that has a legitimate phone bank and build a relationship with them.

Bringing all of these factors together allowed us to leverage a significant mass of voters to apply pressure to the Governor (or any other political official) when the need arose. We'll continue to build our database and cultivate the volunteers that make it all possible as we head toward the day when it will never be needed again.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


please hang up ...

do not leave us a message, we do not want to hear what you, the taxpaying public, have to say...

okay, so actually, the above statement is somewhere between creative interpretation and hyperbole, but it might be what the shelby county district attorney's office had in mind when it turned off it's answering machine last night...

why might they do that???

well, on sunday evening, as the lil' jesuit dude noted, we did some phone banking asking people to call shelby county district attorney william gibbons' office and ask them to release the suzanne collins' evidence to the innocence project for dna testing...

and perhaps, just perhaps, they received enough calls from people asking why they oppose the certainty that can come to bear from dna testing that they decided to turn off the answering machine when they left the office ... or perhaps not, we don't know...

what we do know is that last night an action alert went out ...

and people who called monday evening could not leave a message for the district attorney if they wanted to ...

so keep those calls coming in, only try calling during business hours - surely you can share your opinion then...

peace out ... <3


Why the Death Penalty?

Waking up this morning to NPR's Morning Edition, I decided not to shave - well actually, I decided I wanted to lay in bed longer, which necessitated skipping shaving in order to catch the bus - but as I lay there, I heard a few stories - more U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, tension continues to mount in Israel/Palestine, white-collar jobs are getting outsourced and college graduate earnings aren't rising with the rest of the economy, 40,000 Tennesseans (and 45,000,000 Americans) have no health coverage. And it hit me: the world is not perfect!

OK, I admit, this isn't much of a revelation, but really it's just an introduction to the question that I'm asked so often, and that we all ask ourselves: with all these problems facing the world, why work against the death penalty?

The simple answer is that it is wrong. But then so is the lack of health care, worldwide poverty, war, terrorism, etc. And those affect a much larger number of people. No matter how terrible the death penalty is, there are "only" a few thousand people on death rows across America. So, why the death penalty?

To many, the death penalty is emblematic. There are problems throughout our criminal justice system. Problems of racism, problems of economic disparities, problems with a retributive, offender orientation rather than a system focused on healing for victims. The death penalty is the apotheosis of all of these problems, enlarged to (literally) larger than life proportions. We need to address all of these issues, through the entire criminal justice system, but the death penalty, as the most virulent example of this problem, must come first.

Why the death penalty?

The death penalty represents the total disregard for human life and dignity by a society. As a Catholic*, I always say that the death penalty is the ultimate test of our "pro-life" position, which is why nearly every Christian denomination in the country has called for an end to capital punishment, but I think this perspective applies to all people, including those who do not espouse a Christian or religious ethic. When the state takes into its own hands the power of life and death, when it chooses to kill a person who is already incapacitated and helpless, we, as a people, decide that human life can be degraded and stripped away. That there is no inherent dignity to the human person, because such dignity is contingent on something else. If human life and dignity is a right, and I maintain that it must be the foundational principle of our society (by the way, I'm not alone, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says the same), then we cannot accept that any society has the right to kill its citizens as long as there is any alternative available. Strapping an incapacitated person to a gurney and poisoning them clearly violates this principle.

Why the death penalty?

Because it represents the failures inherent in our criminal justice system. Because as a public policy it fails the rubric of deterrence, cost effectiveness, fairness, and justice. Because there is no justifiable reason that the state can provide to violate the most basic rights of human beings. Why the death penalty? I could have spared everyone most of this blog had I stopped with because it is wrong.

*TCASK is a secular organization which welcomes people of all faith perspectives.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Supreme Court Denies Cert to Abu-Ali

The U.S. Supreme Court today refused to hear Abu-Ali Abdur Rahman's case challenging the constitutionality of Tennessee's lethal injection procedure. This is despite the fact that one of the drugs, pavulon, used in Tennessee's procedure has been banned for use in putting animals to sleep. Apparently, the Supreme Court cares less about the life of a human being than about that of a dog. You can read more at:,1406,KNS_350_4717932,00.html

Despite this, challenges to lethal injection procedures are proceeding around the country, and the Supreme Court will decide the case of Hill v. McCormack this session, challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection.

Of course Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers released a statement saying, "It [the United States Supreme Court's decision] serves to confirm what my office has long argued ...." Unfortunately, the AG's statement is a trifle misleading. The Court's denial of a cert. petition does not "serve to confirm" anything and certainly does not reflect the Court's views about the merits of the case. The Supreme Court grants cert. in a very small percentage of cases, and its decision to review or not review a case is completely discretionary. Particularly considering that the court is already hearing a very similar issue, the Supreme Court's denial of a cert. petition cannot be cited as any kind of legal authority on any kind of legal issue.


Always Personalize the Target

In doing strategic planning, or planning any tactic, we always should be thinking long term: what are our goals? But specifically, we want to know, who can give us what we're asking for i.e. who is the target of this action? One of the basic tenets of strategic planning is that you should always personalize the target. For the simple reason that it is easier to gain some influence over a person than an incorporeal corporation or government.

So, when Sedley Alley was due to be executed without even doing DNA testing on the physical evidence that could exonerate him, we knew that the Governor had the power to grant a reprieve and order the release of the physical evidence for DNA testing, so we generated 1000 calls to his office asking that he do just that. As anyone who's been reading our previous posts (or watching the news) knows, the Governor did do the right thing and grant a temporary reprieve, but he refused to take the reasonable and just step of ordering the DNA testing, despite precedent from a number of other Governors, including President George W. Bush when he was Governor of Texas. So Sedley Alley is still alive, but physical evidence still remains untested.

So now, who can order the DNA testing? Well the Governor still can, but the power also resides with the District Attorney of Shelby County, William Gibbons. Mr. Gibbons could cut through all the legal red tape about whether or not Alley has a legal "right" to DNA testing after the initial conviction (prior to DNA testing becoming available) and recognize that every person has the right to justice and should have all evidence examined. He could immediately negotiate the release of the physical evidence to the Innocence Project for testing. So last night, a few dedicated TCASK volunteers got together and we made phone calls again, but just to Memphis this time. Because Bill Gibbons needs to hear from his constituents that we want justice, and that means doing DNA testing whenever it's available.

When we personalize the target, we're able to figure out what messages and messengers (in this case, Memphis residents) will be able to give us what we want. So if you live in Shelby County, make sure that at some point today you call the D.A.'s office at (901) 545-5900. Tell William Gibbons that you want him to negotiate the immediate release of all physical evidence in the Sedley Alley case to the Innocence Project for DNA testing. If we're going to execute anyone, we deserve absolute certainty that, at the very least, we have the guilty party in custody. Tell the D.A. to give us that.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Dial H for Homicide, Take 2!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, our Attorney General is at it again! Two days after Governor Bredesen took the small but logical step of ordering a 15 day reprieve for Sedley Alley to allow the courts to settle Alley's claims for DNA testing (you can see TCASK's response to the Governor's abdication of his responsibilities to uphold justice in previous posts) Attorney General Paul Summers applied to the Tennessee Supreme Court for a new execution date for Alley . . . on June 1st!

A quick note on DNA testing. The Innocence Project and Alley's attorneys have raised the funding to do the testing at a reputable laboratory where the results can be verified, so there is no cost to the state. But the testing will take about two weeks to complete. Now, ordinarily that would present no problem. But, with Summers pushing ahead at breakneck pace, there isn't time, even if a court orders the release of the evidence, there isn't time to complete the testing!

In his brief to the court, Summers states that "Alley should not be allowed to reap a judicial windfall from executive largesse by parlaying a 'brief' reprieve into an extended stay." Apparently, to the AG, merely asking that all evidence be examined before a life is taken is an example of largesse on the part of the Governor, and remaining alive while common sense measures are taken is classified as a windfall. What most of us would consider simply common sense strikes Summers as irresponsible and almost unbelievably lenient. We can only hope that the Supreme Court does the right thing, and laughs this request out of the room.

Read the full text of Summers' request to the Supreme Court here:

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Nice Wheels!

Rest assured, there are a lot of difficulties to be overcome in order to abolish the death penalty. We've got to convince a law and order culture to choose life over death. We need to deconstruct the myths surrounding capital punishment, that the death penalty is a deterrent, that it's good for families of murder victims, that it's cost effective, etc. But also, we have to get around, and at TCASK that has been a little bit of a problem in the past months.

You see, there are two of us on staff here, but TCASK only has one car. This can get pretty awkward when the traveling Jesuit is expected to be away all week in McKenzie, Memphis, and Chattanooga, and the Tennessee Dude still needs to get around Nashville and do presentations in Murfreesboro and Knoxville.

So, Ginger Eades to the rescue. A few months ago, Ginger donated her old car to TCASK. Now the cars brakes were in pretty horrible shape (the sound they made when applied led to the pet name the deathmobile for the car), but we just got it back from the shop and I drove it to the office and no sounds of suffering came from its interior when I approached red lights. We're thinking of renaming it the resurrectionmobile now.

So soon we'll be able to not only have two full-time staffers, but two full-time traveling staffers. So, anyone else who has an old car, keep us in mind. We'll be adding more staff soon and we all need to get a move on, so we can git 'er done.

postscript... the above hotrod is what the "new" car looks like in the lil' jesuit dude's young mind's eye - this is what she actually looks like ...


A Moving Reflection

With the execution of Sedley Alley imminent, we held vigils and prayer services all around the state on Tuesday evening. One of these events was an ecumenical service at Evergreen Presbyterian Church in Memphis. At that service, the Reverend Amy Howe offered a moving reflection on the death penalty. It's a beautiful piece that we can all benefit from reading, so it's posted below:

Reflection on the Lives of Suzanne Marie Collins and Sedley Alley

Suzanne Marie Collins was nineteen years old when an act of violence took her life. She was someone’s daughter, someone’s friend, someone’s employee. She had a childhood and dreamed of a future. She played softball as a young girl and traveled extensively as the daughter of a U.S. diplomat. She was athletic and courageous and ambitious. Her dream was to be the first female Marine to fly jets. She was well on her way to making her dream come true. She was a Lance Corporal in the Marines and was just twenty-four hours away from graduating from the Avionics Training Program at the Millington Naval Base. She was a precious child of God out for an evening jog on the evening of July 12, 1985 when she was murdered. Her body was left in a field, bruised and bloodied and eternally cold. We will never know if she would have been the first female Marine to fly jets. We will never know if she would have found love and marriage. We will never know if she would have been a mother or a grandmother. Her parents live with an open wound in their hearts that never heals. Tonight we remember this young woman who was denied a future. We find comfort in knowing that she rests in the embrace of our loving God. We celebrate the life of Suzanne Marie Collins and weep for all that was meant to be and will never be.

Sedley Alley was thirty-nine years old in 1985. I don’t know very much about this man. In 1985 he was a married man; he is 50 years old today. I know he first confessed to murdering Suzanne Marie Collins but then said his confession had been coerced. He was born to a mother and father. He had a childhood. I don’t know if it was a happy or troubled childhood. I don’t know what his plans for the future were. I do know tonight he sits in an eighty square foot cell known as the death watch cell. His home has a cot, a toilet, a desk with a stool and a narrow vertical window. I would imagine that time has become very dear to him. Minutes race by as if they were seconds. He was scheduled to die at 1:00 May, 17th, 2006. With less than twenty-four hours to go before his scheduled death, Mr. Alley heard that he had received a fifteen day stay. I have a feeling that minutes will still race by, time is dear to him. I do not know if Sedley Alley murdered Suzanne Marie Collins. But I do know who will kill Sedley Alley if the stay is lifted in fifteen days and Mr. Alley is given a lethal injection.

“Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” What a gift God gave us when God gave us life that we are made in the very image of our Creator. We are made good. Life is a most precious gift. It is so precious that even when Cain disrupts the good order by taking the life of his brother, God acts with mercy. Abel did not deserve to die. Cain is punished for surely there are consequences to such a vile crime. Cain cries out, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! …I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.” God comforts Cain, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a seven fold vengeance.” Out of mercy and love for God’s creature, God marks Cain so that no one can harm him. Suzanne Marie Collins did not deserve to die. Her life was most precious to her Creator. Perhaps some have missed the mark on Sedley Alley that proclaims that he belongs to God and no one should harm him.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” When a woman who was caught in the very act of adultery, a capital crime, was brought before Jesus, he did not pick up a stone. He wrote in the sand and said to the angry crowd, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Apparently, no one fit that bill. For as Paul has told us, “We all fall short.” We all sin. Jesus, sinless, did not pick up a stone, how can we? Sedley Alley very well may be our enemy. He very well may need to be banished, put behind bars forever. But we are called to love him and pray for him. I cannot inject him with a lethal combination of drugs, today’s stones.

Let us pray, Merciful God, your children are crying tonight. We are weeping for the life lost of Suzanne Marie Collins. Her parents cry out for justice. We cry out for justice. We are weeping for the threatened loss of life for Sedley Alley. His parents cry out for mercy. We cry out for mercy. Our world is so broken, violence and brutality surround us. People are hungry, sad, addicted, hopeless, sick. We pray for all victims of violence. We pray for all systems that do violence to individuals. We pray for families that are grieving. We pray for mercy on the hands that would take the life of Sedley Alley. Lord, please stay the hands of those who might throw stones, stay them longer than fifteen days. Lord, help us love even our most frightening enemy. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


TCASK Responds to the Governor

Issued Tuesday, May 16th, 6:00 pm

Tonight the Governor took a stand on the side of justice, issuing a temporary reprieve for Sedley Alley who was scheduled to be executed at 1:00 am tomorrow morning. There is considerable doubt as to the reliability of Alley’s conviction, and we are glad that the Governor did not allow a man to be put to death with these questions left unanswered.

We are warmed by this decision on behalf of Sedley Alley's children who will not have to face the traumatic loss of their father, but, at the same time, we continue to be saddened by the pain felt by the parents of Suzanne Collins and the way in which the death penalty system has impeded their opportunity to heal from the trauma of the loss they suffered. The death penalty remains a net drain on us economically, spiritually, and psychically.

Moreover, we are deeply disappointed that the Governor refused to take the logical and fair step of releasing the crucial physical evidence to the Innocence Project for DNA testing. The fact that Sedley Alley could still be executed with scientific evidence that could provide unquestionable proof of his innocence untested goes against every standard of decency and fairness in our society. When the state considers taking a life, the people of Tennessee deserve the absolute truth. We continue to call on the Governor to provide it.
Randy Tatel, Executive Director
Alex Wiesendanger, Associate Director


Good News

News Channel 2 did a whole lot of coverage last night, most of it very good, but two stories in particular featured TCASK. The first was a piece on religious perspectives on the death penalty, featuring TCASK board member Reverend Stacy Rector. Unfortunately, the story doesn't do the best job of portraying the full complexity of the debate. For instance, the reporter mentions that there are numerous instances throughout the Bible of God's "endorsing" the death penalty, particularly in the Old Testament, but fails to mention that the crimes for which the death penalty seems to be prescribed include adultery, drunkenness, and disobedience to parents. Nor is there any mention, in the discussion of Paul's letter to the Romans, of the fact that the Roman state did not use the much quoted sword as an instrument of execution. Executions were carried out by other means, for instance, crucifixion. Further the report fails to mention that, while the pro-death penalty minister can't find a single instance in the Bible that might call for opposition to capital punishment, nearly every Christian denomination in the country has called for the end of the death penalty. You can view the story here:

The other story of particular note aired on the 10:00 news focusing on our response to the Governor's decision. I think this is an excellent piece by Scott Fralick, and it gives an accurate portrayal of TCASK's position and our feelings toward victims' families and everyone involved. You can view this piece below:

We'll do our best to stay in the news (with good stories) and keep the message to the Governor out there: "You did the right thing in issuing a reprieve, but justice and fairness still call for DNA testing to be done."


on finding common ground for dialogue...

we have, it seems, found a most reliable way to drive traffic (i.e. people) to our entertaining and constructive peek inside the world of issue based organizing (e.g. how we carry out a strategy to abolish the death penalty) - face a very serious execution date...

in the week leading up to sedley alley's temporary reprieve last night we had 482 visitors to our blog ... we had 403 visitors all last month - our busiest month since launching the blog around halloween last year!

that rocks because the little jesuit dude and myself, the tennessee dude, believe that we have a unique "product" here and want this blog to serve at least 2 functions: to supply people - especially in tennessee - a method to grasp how we are going about the work of implementing a grassroots organizing strategy (often in amusing detail), and as a "public commons" for people to visit and dialogue about and through the challenging issues of killing a human being as a matter of public policy...

and we know that in the process that proponents of capital punishment (or at least of killing sedley alley) have found our blog, some finding us through the notoriously angry, vile, and bitter sixmeatbuffet site and others through simple yahoo or google searches ... we have posted numerous comments from people not supporting our mission and position on this emotionally laden policy issue ... and we will continue to do so within the parameters of good taste laid out by the lil' jesuit dude a day or 2 ago...

so here's the punch line - we do not subscribe to the us v. them framing of this issue preferred by some but rather, understand and accept that this issue is not about who suffers more (the murder victim's family members or the condemned person's family members) but that the pain and anguish of violence and killing lives and breathes on a continuum along which we seek to help those affected by murder to heal and to keep others from suffering the trauma and loss of a loved one through fruitless violence motivated by the raw and sensitive wounds of grief brought on by a tragic and senseless murder...

so please return often to this space in search of common ground and contribute to the dialogue necessary to develop a policy response to murder that, rather than diverting resources away from victim's services where they are most needed, truly holds the survivor of homicide's best interests at heart without creating an entirely new set of victims...

peace out - <3

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


You Did It!

A few minutes ago, Governor Phil Bredesen issued a temporary reprieve for Sedley Alley until May 31st. This means that after May 31st, another execution date will have to be set. The immediate pressure of impending death is gone. After hearing from hundreds of his constituents all around the state, the Governor realized that allowing a man whose conviction was so clearly questionable to be executed would be a grave injustice.

Unfortunately, the Governor made the wrong decision by refusing to release the crucial physical evidence for DNA testing. Over and over, he has heard, from you, from us, from the media, from his own advisors, that there are serious problems with Sedley Alley's conviction. Yet he refused to give the people of Tennessee what they deserve, clear scientific evidence, one way or the other, of guilt or innocence. The question still remains, what is the state, what is the Governor, so afraid of that they would deny a simple and costless test to know the truth?

Tonight is a good night. Thanks to your efforts, Sedley Alley will not be executed, but we have to continue our advocacy or we could end up right back here again. Whenever there is physical evidence that can provide scientific fact, we should do the testing. The Shelby County District Attorney's office should release the evidence to the Innocence Project for testing immediately.


Mr. Alley Goes to Washington

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court has affirmed the 6th Circuit panel's decision to overturn the stay of Sedley Alley's execution that District Court Judge Aleta Traugher had put in place to await the Supreme Court ruled on whether or not current lethal injection protocols are unconstitutionally cruel. So, as of right now, Sedley Alley's attorneys are headed to the Supreme Court to ask them to stay the execution until they have a chance to rule on the constitutionality of the lethal injection procedure.

With 12 hours left until the scheduled execution, the Supreme Court is also being asked to order that the physical evidence in Alley's case be released for DNA testing. Both decisions are expected late today or tonight.

We are also still awaiting a decision from the Governor as to whether or not he will follow the recommendation of the pardon and parole board to issue a temporary stay and release the evidence for DNA testing.


News Story in Living Color

A good story, starring our own peerless Executive Director Randy Tatel, appeared on news Channel 4 last night. This story, more than most others really began to address the sound bite crazed back construction of abolitionists vs. victim's advocates. Any public policy is complicated, and when you deal with murder, those complications can seem endless. Yet too often, we're depicted as being "for the inmate" while "the other side" is "for the victim." Of course this isn't the case. One of the main reasons that we oppose the death penalty is that we feel that it is a public policy which fails victims as well as offenders.

As Suzanne Collins' parents stated in an article in the Tennessean recently, family members of murder victims will never have "closure." Their pain will never suddenly end, not with an execution or anything else. Renny Cushing, whose father was murdered, has explained it this way, "healing is a process," he says. "It's not an event." What we need to do, then, is to set up a system that allows for families to begin healing at the earliest possible date. And that means taking death off the table. Because a death sentence brings with it a series of constitutionally mandated appeals, each one providing an opportunity to re-traumatize families. And these appeals are necessary, because it's only during the appellate process that we have found that we've sentenced 124 innocent people to death in America. Without those appeals, all those innocents would have been executed. So let's acknowledge that, while some families (and it is absolutely not all of them) want to take a life for a life, in the long run, this may not be the policy that helps them toward healing in the most efficient manner. We're concerned about victims' families. We're concerned about offenders' families. We're concerned about the costs to us as a people, financial, emotional, and ethical. We're concerned about innocents sentenced to death and about the unfair application of the system. It's because of all of these concerns that we oppose the use of capital punishment.

You can view the news story here:


Ethics and Openness

We at TCASK are in favor of an open and honest dialogue on the death penalty. We are in favor of allowing all voices to be heard. We believe that if we take a reasonable look at the death penalty, the risk to innocents, economic and racial disparities, the cost, and the lack of a deterrent effect, the only conclusion possible is the that death penalty is bad public policy.

Therefore, TCASK will publish any comments to this blog that are not personally insulting, offensive to any of the diverse groups that make up our society, or utilizing inappropriate language. We absolutely do not agree with many of the comments that will appear on this blog, but we believe that an open discussion is in the best interest of our state.

We ask that anyone responding to these comments, which may shock or appall, do so in a respectful and reasonable manner, even if the same consideration is not extended to you. So by all means, let's read and discuss, but I appeal to everyone to do so in a polite and reasoned manner.

Monday, May 15, 2006



Believe it or not, the clemency board just voted, by a narrow 4-3 margin, to recommend to the Governor that he issue a temporary reprieve and release the physical evidence in the Sedley Alley case for DNA testing!

Now before we go to YIPPEE crazy happy, we need to remember that this is a non-binding recommendation, Bredesen can still do whatever he decides, but this decision is certainly unexpected. The political cover that a denial from the board was likely to provide is now stripped away and points in the other direction. Additionally, it helps call more public attention to the fact that the state has DNA evidence that could be tested and that it clearly should. More and more people are asking, "Why not make absolutely sure?"

Now we don't expect that the Governor will make any move until tomorrow (he'll probably want to allow all the avenues in the court to run to their completion), so, until we hear about a definitive stay, all vigil plans are still on. I repeat :ALL VIGIL PLANS ARE STILL ON! But we are hopeful that the Governor will step up and do the right thing, make absolutely sure before we take a life.


"We're sorry, that mailbox is full."

If you called the Governor's office around 10:00 last night, that's the message you might have heard, and for good reason. From across Tennessee, hundreds of citizens were calling Governor Bredesen with the same message, "When there is DNA evidence available, we should test it, so please, do the reasonable thing and grant a temporary reprieve for Sedley Alley and release the evidence to the Innocence Project for testing."

You can see the story that News Channel 2 did on our efforts here:
Sadly, there was a more complete story as the lead on the 10:00 news last night, but, so far, I haven't been able to locate it.

In either case, a quick shout out to Amy Staples, James Staub, Kathryn, Luke, and Ann Lea, Gina Guirguis, Michelle Baier-Lambert, Beth Hiland, Carolyn Hughes, Richard Goode, and Steve Dunning, who all joined TCASK for phone banking last night and called hundreds of TCASK supporters to ask them to call the Governor.

And it's not too late. If you couldn't get through last night, or didn't get a chance to call Governor Bredesen, give him a call this morning at (615) 741-2001 or 532-4562 or email him at And don't worry if the phone is busy or the mailbox is full. He's just listening to 1000 people ask for a temporary reprieve for Sedley Alley!

Sunday, May 14, 2006


Getting the Word Out

So they're pushing ahead. Despite the fact that evidence was withheld from the defense at trial (evidence that puts Sedley Alley under police surveillance at the time of the murder), the state of Tennessee seems hell bent on executing Sedley Alley in the early hours of the morning this Wednesday, May 17th.

What might be even more shocking is that there is physical evidence that could be tested for DNA to determine with certainty if Sedley Alley actually committed the crime, except that the state refuses to release it for testing!

The Governor has scheduled a hearing of the clemency board tomorrow, after the Innocence Project took on the case, to look only at whether or not a temporary reprieve should be granted to allow for DNA testing (at no cost to the state). In all likelihood, the clemency board will provide political cover for the Governor to deny a reprieve, but we know better.

So tonight, we'll be phonebanking, with the help of some wonderful volunteers. Calling as many people as we can in Tennessee and asking them to call the Governor and tell him that justice demands that he grant a reprieve, release the evidence, and allow the Innocence Project to do the DNA testing, to ensure the reliability of the results. The Governor needs to hear from you so pick up the phone and let him know. You can call him at (615) 741-2001 or email him at

Tell him, "When the state decides to kill one of its citizens, we, the people, deserve to be absolutely sure, at the very least, that the right person is being executed. Therefore, it is essential that you issue a temporary reprieve of Sedley Alley, to allow the Innocence Project to test the physical evidence in his case for DNA, so we can conclusively know if the right person is in custody."

And we'll be doing the same from all over Tennessee.

Friday, May 12, 2006


it's a crapshoot...

when you appeal to the 6th circuit court of appeals you can bet one thing's for sure - if it's a death penalty appeal the court's republican nominees will vote against a death row fact, many consider the 6th circuit court of appeals (tennessee, ohio, kentucky, michigan) to be one of the most politicized of the appellate courts in the country...

and when the state of tennessee appealed judge aleta trauger's injunction stopping sedley alley's execution pending a ruling in hill v. mcdonough court watchers waited specifically to see which 3 judges names would be pulled to hear the challenge from attorney general paul summers' office...

unfortunately for alley (and his son and daughter) he pulled two bad rabbits out of the hat - hard-core, ideological republican appointees - 62 year old alice batchelder and 61 year old danny boggs - neither of which ever met a death row inmate whose constitutional rights mattered to them...

consider that they were two of the eight justices who voted to deny paul gregory house the right to bring new evidence of his actual innocence before the courts...

so earlier this evening the 3 judge panel, including batchelder and boggs, voted to overturn judge trauger's injunction...

at the moment the execution of sedley alley is back on ... this is why tcask continued to prepare vigils across the state even while many celebrated the, now short-lived, stay of execution...

i gotta tell ya, a public policy that's a crapshoot and results in life or death is morbidly an affront to little d democratic values ...

we mourn the unfathomable loss suffered by suzanne collin's parents but do we believe that methodically destroying the hearts of sedley alley's children is the way to help them in their endeavor to heal???

i hope to hell not ...

peace out <3


And Looking Good Doing It

Check out this post on Nashville is Talking contrasting our blog with a pro-death penalty blogger. I think the contrast is pretty striking. Enjoy.

WARNING: You will probably get very angry after reading this blog.


In Limbo

Yesterday, Judge Aleta Trauger of the Federal District Court issued a preliminary injunction to stay the execution of Sedley Alley until the United States Supreme Court rules on whether or not current lethal injection procedures meet constitutional safeguards against cruel and unusual punishment (Can you imagine that some people might think that strapping a helpless person to a gurney and poisoning them might be cruel?). Needless to say, we in the TCASK office were fairly excited.

But, the state, never one to let our moment last too long has appealed Judge Trauger's decision to the 6th Circuit. There, a three judge panel will be asked to rule on whether or not the coming Supreme Court decision is a significant enough issue to justify staying this execution. Since the Supreme Court has not ruled yet, and other circuits are divided along this issue, there is no binding precedent of the Circuit; it has never previously addressed this issue. But they could easily decide to lift the stay, in which case we will be looking at more appeals to an en banc hearing (of the full circuit instead of a three judge panel) and then the Supreme Court, so this case could come right down to the wire.

Meanwhile, Governor Bredesen has called for a clemency board hearing narrowly focused on whether or not the state should stay the execution to allow for DNA testing that could prove Sedley Alley's innocence. Of course, the clemency board is likely to respond with a resounding no, to give the Governor political cover if the stay is lifted and he's asked to stay the execution. But we need to tell the Governor that it is not alright for the state to put a man to death without even looking at all the evidence! What we need is to relsease the evidence to allow for testing, under the supervision on the Innocence Project (which will ensure the integrity of the testing), to answer once and for all, the question of Sedley Alley's guilt or innocence!

At the same time, we at TCASK are preparing to bear witness around the state on Tuesday night if the state persists in its attempts to kill Sedley Alley. We will be holding vigils and prayer services in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis, Pulaski, and, of course, here in Nashville at Riverbend prison. So everyone keep praying and hoping that this execution is stopped, but even more imortantly, tell the Governor, tell your friends, tell your local newspapers, that we need to release the evidence for DNA testing BEFORE an execution takes place!

Thursday, May 11, 2006


cautiously optimistic: injunction stops alley execution - for now

judge aleta trauger has, in a well reasoned and very firmly stated memorandum, issued an injunction stopping the sedley alley execution pending a ruling in hill v. mcdonough before the u.s. supreme court ...

the state can (and will) appeal the ruling but there appears to be a very good chance that this order will force the state of tennessee to stand down on this attempt to kill sedley alley...

tcask will continue to organize and plan next week's vigils until such time as the state unequivocally stops its efforts to carry out the execution of sedley alley on may 17th...

peace out - <3


planning for a homicide....

the cause of death listed on an official death certificate after an execution is homicide ... which is the killing of one human being by another...

and with the planned execution of sedley alley early next wednesday morning part of our task as an organization that opposes the use of capital punishment in all instances - some of us for moral reasons and others of us for philosophical, pragmatic, and/or practical reasons - is to plan the vigil ... an act or period of watching or surveillance ...

so next tuesday evening across the state, and especially here in nashville at the site of this state's executions, opponents of a horrific, violent, and ineffective policy response to murder shall gather together to demonstrate that there are good citizens who both mourn the loss of murder victims and the grief imposed upon their families and who refuse to accept that the best we can come up with as a response, neigh, a reply to murder, is to bow ungraciously to the dark and coarse side of humanity's potential ... to kill again ...

in nashville we will gather at riverbend maximum security prison beginning at 8 pm; will hold an interfaith service between 9 and 10 pm; and will commune until either a stay that holds or the death of sedley alley at the hands of the state of tennessee and us, her citizens...

we ask all of you in the area to join us in opposing this perpetuation and legitimization of violence by state policy ...

other vigils are planned for chattanooga, knoxville, memphis, pulaski, jackson, and other communities around the state ... please call the tcask office at 615-463-0070 or 615-473-2950 to get more information about an event in your area...

peace out - <3

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Bringing in the Big Guns

On Monday evening, TCASK Chattanooga, as well as the TCASK staff, got a special treat, a visit from Equal Justice USA's Southern Field Organizer, Catilla Everette! Everette was hired by EJ to work in four Southern states including Tennessee and we are certainly lucky to have him. On Monday night we got a taste of exactly why that is.

One of the tasks that Everette has taken on since arriving is to be the point person developing the chapter in Chattanooga (while Randy works in Knoxville and I tackle Memphis - poor Memphis got the short end of the stick). Monday night was Everette's first chance to meet the Chattanooga chapter, and I think it's safe to say that a great impression was made. Everette took over facilitation of the meeting and within an hour had pulled a full vigil plan, with outreach to important communities included, from all the different thoughts and ideas that people at the meeting had.

For me, it was nice to be at a meeting where I wasn't facilitating, so I could just sit back and observe the master in action and it really was a pleasure. Everette has a great organizer's persona, that is to say that he can be persuasive while empowering others to bring their views forward and then distilling, sometimes rambling, thoughts into concise and coherent visions, while at the same time keeping a meeting on track. Chattanooga is going to be flying high.

So even though we're still staring down an execution date for Sedley Alley in less than a week, there is some good news on the TCASK front. Shout out to Everette, who knows how to git 'er done!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


sedley alley's case on fox 17 news tonight...

if you're in middle tennessee tonight catch the 9:00 pm fox 17 news broadcast as tcask associate director alex "buttercup" wiesendanger shares the issue of withheld evidence with reporter john dunn...


killing sedley alley: prosecutorial misconduct and withholding evidence...

"evidence supporting the theory that the victim had not been killed until 1:30 a.m., at the earliest, precludes alley (who was accounted for from 12:10 a.m. on) from being the killer..."

so why is the state of tennessee still trying so hard to execute sedley alley next wednesday morning? because this evidence was never disclosed to alley or his lawyers at trial...

that's right, withholding exculpatory evidence from defense counsel ... or, prosecutorial misconduct ...

according to the columbia school of law study, A Broken System: Error Rates in Capital Cases, 1973-1995, the second most common reason for death sentences being overturned on appeal is police or prosecutors who did discover that kind of evidence (missed important evidence that the defendant was innocent or did not deserve to die) but suppressed it, again keeping it from the jury...

and as tcask notes, this describes exactly the situation with sedley alley and the tragic death of suzanne marie collins...

On the night of July 11, 1985, Lance Corporal Suzanne Collins was abducted while jogging on the naval base in Millington, Tennessee. At 6:30 a.m. the following morning, her body was found at Edmund Orgill Park in Millington. Ms. Collins had been beaten and sexually assaulted with a stick. Eyewitnesses to the abduction described the attacker as 5'8" with short, dark hair and a dark complexion, wearing black shorts and driving a wood-paneled station wagon. Shortly after the abduction, at 12:10 a.m. on July 12, Sedley Alley, whose wife worked on the naval base, was pulled over by the police because he was driving a car that fit the eyewitness description. The police located his wife and brought them both in for questioning. The police determined that the eyewitnesses had simply observed a domestic dispute, and at approximately 1:00 a.m. Alley and his wife were allowed to leave. Radio logs in evidence establish that Alley and his wife were seen talking on the front porch of their house at 1:27 a.m.. There is no evidence to suggest that Alley ever left the house after that time.

The Shelby County Medical Examiner examined Ms. Collins' body at 9:30 a.m., and concluded that Ms. Collins had been dead for approximately 6 to 8 hours. Thus, the time of death was between 1:30 and 3:30 a.m.. The Medical Examiner later modified his assessment, telling a law enforcement officer that Ms. Collins had been dead for closer to six hours, making the time of death 3:30 a.m.. The State's theory had always been that Alley killed Ms. Collins prior to being picked up by the police at 12:10 a.m.. Evidence supporting the theory that the victim had not been killed until 1:30 a.m., at the earliest, precludes Alley (who was accounted for from 12:10 a.m. on) from being the killer. Yet this evidence was never disclosed to Alley or his lawyers at trial...

as you may well know there is untested dna evidence that is crucial to unraveling the truth of suzanne collins murder...

the withheld evidence and untested dna evidence reminds us that alley's case bears the hallmarks of many dna exonerations throughout the country...

tennessee's death penalty system, like so many others, is deeply flawed and broken and sedley alleys' case bears more proof as to why we need a moratorium on excecutions and a thorough study study revealing all of the ways in which the system fails all of us, murder victims' included, in tennessee...

peace out - <3

Monday, May 08, 2006


They ARE Paying Attention

On Sunday, the Tennessean published a piece on the challenges to lethal injection around the country but particularly here in Tennessee in the cases of both Sedley Alley (scheduled to die on May 17th) and Abu-Ali Abdur Rahman.

You can read the entire piece here:

The good news is that the Tennessee media is paying attention both to the issues of lethal injection and to the Sedley Alley case specifically (we're only about 8 days out now). The not so good news is that we continue to see the debate framed as being abolitionists vs. victims, as the quotes from Verna Wyatt in the article show. Of course we know that all victims do not want or support the death penalty. Just in the case of Moussaoui in the past weeks, we saw victims come down on both sides of the question as to whether or not they wanted the death penalty. You can read a good article about this group at the NCADP's blog here:

We have a number of family members of murder victims right here in Tennessee who speak out against the death penalty, and hopefully in the coming days we will see more of those viewpoints presented as well. We aren't against family members. Far from it, we want to create a system focused more on healing for the victim than on vengeful punishment for the offender meted out over many years by an unfair judicial process!

Friday, May 05, 2006



Those of us in the abolition movement know that the system is far from perfect. We know that the risk of executing an innocent person is extremely high. We've had 124 exonerations of death row prisoners in the modern era of executions. Right here in Tennessee we're waiting for a decision from the U. S. Supreme Court on the case of Paul House, an innocent man by any rational judgment who has been on our death row for 21 years.

Across the country, we've started to see evidence that we have actually executed some innocent people, and this week a new story has come to light. Two years ago, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in Texas for arson killing his three children in 1992. Yet recent reviews of the evidence, when examined with our currently improved understanding of arson, reveals that, in all likelihood, the fire was in fact just what Willingham said it was, an accident.

You can read a good summary of this case on the widely read blog Daily Kos here

And a good collection of all the national news coverage of these cases at

It is high time that everyone, on both sides (and the middle) of this debate, acknowledge the truth. Our current death penalty system is extremely fraught with error and will sentence and execute innocent people.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Well That's a New One!

"Since maximum security prisons are such horrible places, wouldn't it be better to just execute an innocent person, instead of sending them there for life to face all of that abuse?"

Now, I've been traveling around the state speaking to different groups for a while now, so I thought I'd heard 'em all, but this question, at a Disciples of Christ church out in Clarksville last night, kind of took me aback. I mean, really, there's a question that I'd never had raised before. I mean I'd heard the argument that life in prison may be a worse punishment than death for some (and I can see the point there) but it's better to execute innocent people than to put them in jail? Wow.

So my response was that, if I was that innocent person, I'd want every chance I could get to prove my innocence and that, instead of thinking about what punishment would be best for innocent people, we should aim for a system that doesn't target the innocent! Just a thought.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


He Got WHAT!?

Minutes ago, a sentence in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial was announced and it is . . . life in prison. Jurors rejected the death penalty even for someone involved in the most horrendous crime in American history. Someone completely unrepentant, in fact gloating over the pain that he had caused on the stand in court., was not given the ultimate punishment. Maybe our country truly is moving away from an inexpensive and inefficient public policy.

Doubtless, in the coming hours and days pundits from across the spectrum and across the country will offer their take on the sentence, what the prosecution did wrong, what the defense did right, what testimony was the most convincing, etc., but let TCASK be the first to offer this straight-forward and simple explanation: Moussaoui had good lawyers.

How's that for simple. Across the country, the people on death row are not those who, like Moussaoui, are accused of the most heinous and horrible crimes. They're not universally those, again like Moussaoui, who are unrepentent of their crimes. They are the poor. Nationwide, 98% of the nearly 3500 death row inmates couldn't afford their own attorneys at trial, and here in Tennessee, we do even better than that. In fact we're perfect. Not a single one of the 103 people on Tennessee's death row could afford their own attorney at trial. So the average defendant has under-trained and underpaid attorneys. Moussaoui had the best the legal profession has to offer.

So, yes, some pundits will point out that the presentation of the FBI incompetance was the key. Some will say that presenting Moussaoui as a delusional schizophrenic convinced the jury to spare him. But I guarantee that what they won't mention is why so many others, without counsel that knows or is prepared and funded enough to make these motions, do receive a death sentence. So you heard it here first.



One of the legal issues being presented by the lawyers who are trying to keep Sedley Alley alive is an objection to the method of execution (lethal injection) used by the state of Tennessee. Across the country, lethal injection is being challenged as unnecessarily cruel and unusual. Since the second drug administered immobilizes the victim's muscles, incredible pain may be experienced while the victims is unable to move or express that discomfort. One of the killing drugs has been banned for putting dogs to sleep, since it was deemed unnecessarily painful. The Supreme court will be hearing just such a case in the coming months, and the outcome will certainly affect executions across the country. But, just in case we needed more proof that slowly poisoning someone was cruel and inhumane, consider this report of an execution that just occurred this week in Ohio:

Clark executed after vein collapse causes lengthy delay
By Alan Johnson
The Columbus Dispatch
Tuesday, May 2, 2006 12:50 PM
LUCASVILLE, Ohio - "It don't work. It don't work," Joseph Clark said repeatedly in what he thought were his last moments alive as he lay on the lethal injection table.But he didn't die -- not right away.

For the first time since Ohio resumed capital punishment in 1999, problems with lethal injection delayed the execution of the Toledo murderer by an hour. Clark's vein collapsed or "blew out" after the process had started this morning at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville.

Clark, 57, was eventually executed at 11:26 a.m., but only after medical technicians struggled behind a closed curtain for about a half hour to find suitable veins to inject the deadly drugs.

Terry Collins, who took over Monday as director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said he ordered the curtain closed to shield victim family witnesses and his staff from being watched while they tried to get the IV lines going.

"I absolutely believe I made the right call closing the curtain and I would do it again," Collins said later. However, he said the whole process will be reviewed.

Media witnesses heard what they described as "moaning, crying out and guttural noises" while technicians worked on Clark behind the closed curtain.

However, prison officials said he was not in any pain and eventually went to sleep just before the execution resumed.

Collins said he was in touch with Gov. Bob Taft's office several times during the delay. He also summoned Greg Trout, the department's chief legal counsel, to the Death House to confer with George Pappas, Clark's attorney.

The trio of drugs -- sodium pentothal, an anesthetic, pancuronium bromide, a muscle paralyzer, and potassium chloride, which stops respiration and the heart -- has been used in Ohio and 35 other states for several years.

However, legal challenges to the lethal injection process are pending in several states, as well as at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Opponents argue the drugs can leave a prisoner paralyzed, but suffering great pain as they are executed. They say that violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Court records show Clark shot and killed David A. Manning on Jan. 13, 1984, during a robbery at the service station where Manning worked. Clark confessed to the crime after being arrested a few days later in connection with a bank robbery. He was also convicted for murder, without a death penalty specification, for the shooting death of Donald Harris, a convenience store clerk.
Mary Ellen Manning Gordon, the widow of the slain man who witnessed the execution, said she was glad to see Clark die.

"I didn't shed a single tear for Joseph Clark. He lived 22 years too long."