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Thursday, September 28, 2006


You Did It Again!

Thank you!

Thank you to all of you who made calls to the Governor and the Head of TDOC when you received TCASK's email Abolition Update last week. As you know, Paul Gregory House had been moved to Deberry Special Needs Prison, where he is denied visitors, denied a wheelchair, did not receive a bath or a tooth brush for over a week, and was unable to call his mother. As if this wouldn't be a bad enough way to treat people convicted of crime, it is made all the worse by the fact that Paul House is innocent!

But Paul was finally allowed to call his mother Joyce this weekend. The attendants brought the phone in and said, "Call your mother." So some of our phone calls finally made it through. And Paul called from the wheelchair that he had finally been provided!

Now he is still in Special Needs, which is not ideal. When he called his mom he had to ask her what day it was, since he has no watch, no tv, and no way to stay connected to the outside world. And his MS still goes largely untreated. All the more reason, given the Supreme Court's recent ruling that no reasonable juror would have found him guilty, that Paul House needs to be released immediately and Tennessee needs to admit its near fatal mistake.

But once again, the hard work of TCASK volunteers made a difference, so thank you. Together we can get Paul House a wheelchair, we can get him home to his mother, and we can end the inhuman practice of capital punishment in our state once and for all.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


So Much To Do, So Little Time

I have some good news, and I have some bad news. The good news is that things are happening in the abolition movement all across the country and right here in Tennessee! People are getting exonerated, issues are being raised, cases are being examined - it's an exciting time! The bad news is that I can't possibly keep the blog adequately up to date with detailed entries and still do the work to make some things happen right here in Tennessee!

So today is link day! I want to simply point toward some other resources for folks to check in on a number of issues:
  • As many of you are aware, challenges to the use of lethal injection procedures have created de facto moratoria in a number of states starting with California. Extensive hearings regarding that state's lethal injection procedures are beginning this week. Read about them here.
  • Some of you may have followed the case of Corey Maye in Mississippi (brought to light by a blogger). Corey, while not exonerated, is currently off death row. You can read about this stunning development as well as background on the case at the NCADP Blog.
  • The New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission will hold its third public hearing today beginning at noon. You can listen to it live here.
  • Donnie Johnson, who is scheduled to be executed right here in Tennessee despite strong evidence of his innocence, has filed new appeals in federal court. There will be more to come on Johnson's case very shortly, but you can read about the current pleas here.

We at TCASK have some exciting events coming up as well. Tonight, Reverend Stacy Rector and I will be heading out to Dyersburg to speak at an Episcopal church there, and tomorrow I get to accompany Hector Black to Dickson to speak at a house party to kick off our organizing work there. So keep reading, stay informed, and keep up the good work! We'll try to do the same.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Holton Briefs Submitted

For those of you still wondering what is going on in the Daryl Holton case, the Federal Public Defenders who are representing Holton have filed their brief with the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court. The brief makes a number of arguments far too complex for me to go into (or really to comprehend) but here goes my limited understanding.

When an inmate is attempting to drop his appeals and there are questions regarding his mental competency, attorneys are expected to demonstrate reasonable cause to believe that the person is mentally ill. This can be done by testimony of attorneys demonstrating that the client has not been able to understand or engage with them regarding the issues of his case; testimony from family members regarding suicidal motivations; or testimony from mental health experts. In the case of Daryl Holton, his attorneys presented all three, when one of the above has been seen as demonstrating reasonable cause in other cases. In the case that reasonable cause is found, an adversarial hearing should ensue. That is, Holton's attorneys would be allowed to produce evidence and witnesses testifying to his incompetency, while the state produces evidence of his competence.

But this isn't what happened in Holton's case. While Holton's attorneys presented all the above evidence, the district court refused to rule on whether reasonable cause had been demonstrated and instead ordered that its own expert evaluate Holton and then present his findings to the court. The court even refused to allow Holton's attorneys access to the expert or his raw data. In other words, the court added a new hurdle for Holton to clear, just out of the blue!

Additionally, Holton never said in court that he wanted to dismiss all his claims, only some of them, yet the court went ahead and ruled that he wanted to forfeit all his claims anyway!

Hopefully the U.S. Sixth Circuit will have sense enough to see the merits of these arguments. And, on a more fundamental level, hopefully our state will see that claiming that a man who clearly suffers from mental illness is competent is an exercise in injustice!

Read the entire brief here.

Monday, September 25, 2006


State's Rights

This morning, in my email box, I received an interesting piece from North Dakota regarding a local bishop coming out and publicly condemning a death sentence being handed down in North Dakota. One great quote I'd like to share:

"Responding to this senseless act of violence with another act of violence through imposition of the death penalty does not erase the hurt caused by the first act," he [Bishop Samuel Aquila] contended. "Rather, it reinforces the false perspective of revenge as justice. In doing so, it diminishes respect for all human life, both the lives of the guilty and the innocent."

You can read the full article, "Bishop Opposes Death Sentence in North Dakota," here. It is worth the read and the bishop makes a number of terrific points.

A really knowledgable and observant person, when reading the title of the article, might have stopped and said, "Wait a minute! They don't have a death penalty in North Dakota!" and they'd be absolutely right (don't feel bad if this person wasn't you, it wasn't me either and this is my job). North Dakota's voters have decided, wisely, that they don't need the death penalty. So then how is Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. facing his execution in North Dakota? The answer . . . the federal death penalty!

The federal government has the right to prosecute people in federal trials and seek the death penalty even if they state in which the crime was committed does not impose the death penalty. Thus, the feds feel they have the right to step in and take the decision of whether or not to use the death penalty out of the hands of the citizens whose taxes pay for the system. The federal death penalty can even be applied for crimes that do not involve murder. And, of course, it should come as no surprise that the person being charged is a person of color. Federal death row demonstrates an even greater racial bias in sentencing than other death rows across the country. It seems to me that if the people of a state have made the choice to reject capital punishment as a public policy tool, the federal government should respect that choice and not override the democratic process.

You can learn more about the federal death penalty here.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Look At Them Go

With the execution of Daryl Holton looming less than 36 hours away, we at TCASK hit the phones on Sunday evening, calling supporters around the state to ask them to call the Governor and ask him to stop the mockery of justice about to occur. If you're reading this, you may have gotten a phone call on Sunday from one of our callers.

We had some of our terrific TCASK stalwarts making calls, and I'd like to tip my hat to James, Harry, and Michelle who've done so much for TCASK, but the majority of the calls where made by my youth group from Holy Name Catholic Church; in my spare time, I serve as the youth minister of that parish. This group of 13-17 year olds came with their cell phones and youthful energy to stop an execution. Now, I'm not saying that they were all thrilled about the process. I know that a few of them were nervous about calling people, some had homework, and some are teenagers who don't like to be asked to do anything. But I will say that they got started and then they went above and beyond the call. Not only did they get through all the phone lists that we had, they started making calls to their personal acquaintances to get them to call the Governor as well. One young man texted every person in his phone with the message for the Governor.

On Wednesday morning I went to morning Eucharist. I ran into two brothers from my youth group there.

"Did the execution go through?" one asked me. I told him that it hadn't.

"I knew it wouldn't," he said proudly.

The mother of three other teens was at mass. Afterwards she stopped me and told me that she came home from work on Monday after the stay had been issued and was told, "Mom, we saved that man's life!" Her son had put Daryl Holton's name into his school prayer intentions that day. They had gotten home from phone banking and kept calling people that they knew.

Another girl, only 14 years old, put so much passion into her calls I thought she might cry. "We're begging people to call the Governor to save a life!" I heard her say into the phone.

None of these kids had ever been particularly involved with the death penalty issue before. They aren't social activists generally. But to see them take action like this was inspiring. I was proud, as a TCASK Associate Director, but even more as a youth minister. Passion like that is impressive, and their contribution shouldn't be overlooked. So thank you, Holy Name Youth Group, from all of us at TCASK, but thank you especially for myself. It's a privilege to work with you all.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


An Interesting Perspective

The Shelbyville Times Gazette has been the home paper for two recent Tennessee near execution, of Daryl Holton and Gregory Thompson, and consequently has done a lot more coverage than most. There's a very interesting piece in today's edition, by Clint Confehr. For a taste:

Oh, yes, the legal system grinds along as competing interests argue whether death is a suitable punishment for some crimes, but there are a number of people who are affected by the adversarial system and whose daily lives are adjusted by the on-again, off-again nature of the death penalty system in America.

I have been one of them because it's my job to write news about the justice system and my assignment yesterday was to watch Holton die. I don't shirk the responsibility, but wouldn't do it if I didn't see it as part of the job.
It's an interesting piece and, I think, an issue that's often overlooked - the effect of executions on all the people involved, from prison guards, to witnesses, to general citizens, to Governors who have to sign death warrants.
Read the entire piece here.


Vital Partnerships

The death penalty is racist. There are no two ways about it. People of color are singled out for prosecution far more often than whites under similar circumstances. A quarter of all African-American death row inmates were sentenced by all white juries, including, in Tennessee, three men in Shelby County which is nearly half black. Even more insidiously, the capital punishment system functions under the assumption that the life of a white person is more valuable than that of a person of color. How? A person accused of murdering a white person is four times as likely to be sentenced to death than a person accused of murdering an African-American person. While whites represent less than half of all murder victims nationally, over 80% of death row inmates were convicted of the murder of a white person.

With all this in mind, forging meaningful and trusting relationships with organizations representing people of color and working hard to truly become an anti-oppressive and anti-racist organization is absolutely essential for us, if our struggle to end an immoral public policy is to succeed. And that is why I am so thrilled that I have been invited to speak at the NAACP state-wide convention tomorrow! The leadership of the NAACP, both the state-wide organization and the Memphis, Nashville, Jackson, and Carroll County branches that I have been privileged to meet with, is made up of wonderful people, committed to social justice, who view the death penalty as a human rights issue and recognize that it must be stopped! I'm looking forward to continuing to deepen our cooperation as we move toward a state-wide moratorium in the next legislature. Together, we can all do it!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


ABA Reviews Florida's Death Penalty

The ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project is currently in the process of doing state-by-state assessments of capital punishment systems. This week, the Florida study was released. The report is an indictment of the system, chastising many flaws (Florida is the state with the dubious distinction of having the most people exonerated from its death row- 21 to date). The study finds numerous areas of failure in Florida's system and calls for a number of reforms to be implemented.

You can read the full report here although I'd stick with the Executive Summary, it's a very long report.

The ABA is currently working on an assessment of Tennessee's capital punishment system which should be released by the end of the year. While we don't have the shocking exoneration record of Florida, we know that we have innocent people on death row right here in Tennessee (think of Paul House or the case of Erskine Johnson, no longer on death row but still in prison for a crime he did not commit). We know that our system fails to provide adequate counsel for indigent defendants just as regularly. We know, with the recent near execution of Daryl Holton and Paul Dennis Reid, that our system fails to properly understand and protect people suffering from mental illness from execution. And we know that race plays a major role in death sentences here just like everywhere else.

So when the ABA releases its assessment of Tennessee this fall/winter, we have to be ready. We'll be watching Florida to see how abolitionists use the assessment to further strategic work toward a moratorium in their state, so that we can do as well, or even better. So read the Florida assessment if you have a chance, and get ready for Tennessee's. It will provide a unique opportunity for us to educate the public and our policy-makers about the deadly flaws in our death penalty system.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Will We Ever Learn

I've done two fairly long call-in talk radio interviews this morning, one of WNOX and one on WGNS, and so many of the same points came up from callers, and even from hosts, that I just had to talk about them. Because it is the same old arguments of deterrence, cost, and the Bible that come up over and over again. I guess people really think that the death penalty deters murder, saves tax-payer money, and is sanctioned by the Bible. So here we go, for the record:

  • No respectable study has found the death penalty to deter murder to any extent greater than life without parole does. In fact, states without the death penalty have lower murder rates (by a large margin) than state with the death penalty. When the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 1972 we didn't see an increase in murder rates across the country, and when execution resumed in 1977 we didn't see murder rates drop. Additionally, in Tennessee, the only possible sentences for capital murder are death, life without the possibility, or a life sentence with a minimum of 51 years before parole eligibility. Eliminating the death penalty will not put people convicted of murder back out on the streets.
  • Systems with the death penalty have consistently been found to cost far more than systems with LWOP as the most severe sentence. The majority of the extra costs are found in the initial trial, which has to include a whole separate phase for sentencing in capital cases. New Jersey just did a study of their capital punishment system and found that they had spent $253,000,000 above and beyond the cost of LWOP on it. And here's the kicker, NJ has only 10 people on death row and has never executed anyone. Imagine what we've spent on a death row of 102 and two executions.
  • And finally, yes, there are a few isolated passages of the Bible that seem to support capital punishment, but they support it not only for murder but also for adultery, planting different crops side by side, working on the Sabbath, disobeying your parents, and drunkenness. Additionally the Book of Deuteronomy states that it is a sin to execute without two eye witnesses giving exactly matching testimony. Not many of our death sentences would meet that standard. Finally, the overall message of the Bible and particularly of Jesus, is one of love, compassion, and forgiveness, a message that is incompatible with the vengeful killing of the death penalty.

Now a lot of you probably already knew that, but, given the number of times I've heard those arguments advanced just this morning, I decided that I had to get the answers out in the open again. So the next time some one raises one of those arguments, just let them have it (rhetorically) with some of the facts above. Because the great thing about working for abolition is that all of the facts are with us!


A Beautiful Morning

Yes it is. The sky is blue, their were birds chirping at my window, and, even if I was up at 5:45 to do an hour long, call-in, talk radio show on WNOX Knoxville (man there are some angry people calling stations early in the morning) the fact that I had gotten to go to sleep at a reasonable hour and Tennessee didn't commit any homicides in the night made it all worthwhile.
As many of you probably already know, the U. S. Supreme Court refused to lift the stay issued by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals last night. This decision didn't come as much of a surprise, but it did finally allow Daryl Holton to me moved off of death watch and back to his cell, ending any speculation that the execution might occur sometime today.

To clarify the events of yesterday, the Sixth Circuit issued a stay of execution and has ordered that briefings be presented by Holton's attorneys and the state regarding his mental competency. The court has also requested that Daryl Holton inform it as to whether he wants the line of appeals to continue. You can read all the orders and motions here. But for us, as abolitionists, the bottom line is that Daryl Holton will not be executed today.

What we should remember is that a man with clear and diagnosed mental illness came within 12 hours of being executed. Clearly our capital punishment system continues t fail to understand mental illness, and in fact to target people suffering from mental illness for execution. Daryl Holton is only the latest in a number of mentally ill men, including Greg Thompson and Paul Dennis Reid, who have been scheduled for execution this year. Though Holton is still alive, our capital punishment system lives also, though it is obviously broken. We need to act now before more people with mental illness are targeted for execution.

Monday, September 18, 2006


Holton Receives Stay of Execution

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a stay of execution for Daryl Holton and called for a full hearing to determine his mental competency. The order, issued by a three judge panel today, states that there is "reasonable cause to believe that Mr. Holton is not competent to make a rational decision to dismiss his pending federal habeas corpus petition."

Wait! Someone with severe mental illness might not be mentally competent to make complex legal decisions!? Who would have thought?

Well, clearly we all knew that already, but the state of Tennessee seems to be slow catching on. The fact that a man with such clear mental illness came this close to execution clearly demonstrates how broken the capital punishment system is. If anyone ever needed more evidence that our system targets people with mental illness, here it is. And this is exactly why the National alliance on Mental Illness, the National Association of Social Workers, and the American Psychological Association all support a moratorium on capital punishment. The application is simply too unfair toward people suffering from mental illness.

So our evening's protest activities are off for today, but don't relax too much, because there are still over 100 people on Tennessee's death row and a lot of them suffer from mental illness. It may not be long until we see the state of Tennessee attempt another execution.


Not a Willing Volunteer

This morning Daryl Holton has filed a habeas corpus appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court requesting a stay of execution. Holton is not seeking to pursue the current claims as to his competency to drop his appeals that the Federal Public Defenders are currently appealing in the Sixth Circuit. Instead, Holton is seeking review of unconstitutional burden shifting at his original trial.

It should be made clear that this appeal will not automatically result in a stay of execution from the court. However, what should also be clear is that Daryl Holton, having requested a stay of execution, is no longer a "volunteer" for execution, but rather he wants to live and to fight his conviction. The state of Tennessee is now preparing to kill an unwilling man.

Read Holton's appeal here.


Now is the Time!

The execution of Daryl Holton is now only 16 hours away. The state continues to insist that a man suffering from major depression and PTSD, who has a history of suicidal tendencies, who killed the children that he loved because he thought it was saving them, and who voluntarily has chosen to die in the electric chair is mentally competent and rational. I know that claim sounds pretty ridiculous, but that is the archaic understanding of mental illness written into our legal codes.

Holton's competency to drop his appeals and assist the state in killing him is still at issue in the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court, which is expected to rule some time today. The court could issue a stay since the U.S. District Court refused to allow the Federal Public Defenders to person expert witnesses who had evaluated Holton and found that he met the threshold showing of mental incompetence. The testimony of such witnesses should be guaranteed to Holton.

However, we aren't going to sit on our hands and wait for the Sixth Circuit to make up its mind. Instead, it's time for us to take action! So, if you haven't done so already, call the Governor at (615) 741-2001 or (615) 741-3673 or (615) 532-4562. Tell the Governor:

"I am a resident of the state of Tennesse and we should be treating people with mental illness, not executing them. Please stay the execution of Daryl Holton and order a full competency hearing."

If the Sixth Circuit rules against Holton, he will be without representation and there will be no one to make a formal request for clemency to the Governor. So we, the citizens of Tennessee, need to make our voices so numerous and so loud that they cannot be ignored. Now you may have already received a call from a TCASK volunteer last night as we phone banked, calling our supporters all around the state asking them to call the Governor with that same message. Or you may have found a TCASK action alert in your email this morning asking you the same. If you've already called the Governor, thank you. And have all your friends? Forward the email or pass along the message. Make sure that the Governor hears our voices loud and clear!

Then come gather with us at Legislative Plaza at 4:30 to rally against the execution and make sure that the Governor can't continue to ignore us! The power of all of us working together can stop this execution and one day end the immoral and unjust practice of state-sponsored killing in our state.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


Out on the Corner Part II

By Lillian Siman (TCASK Student Caucus Co-Chair)

We're on the road to abolition- and I mean that literally.

This afternoon, as part of our public awareness campaign, we marched from the TCASK office to the TSU game- only to discover that it wasn't actually happening. Like true abolitionists, we refused to be let down; instead we turned around and marched right back. We stood on the corner of 5th and Main for the next couple of hours, weaving through traffic to distribute flyers to remarkably receptive East Nashville folks. With our "Honk for Justice" sign inciting both honks and cheers, we were feeling pumped about abolishing the death penalty and about justice in general. As Alex noted, "Everybody likes justice!" (Thank you, Alex.)

We decided to focus the campaign on mental illness and the death penalty. A huge black sign stated our demand: Treat the Illness, Don't Kill the Person. Several people asked questions about the case, and many expressed outrage at the murder being committed on Tuesday with their tax money. Hopefully, a refined version of this anger will be expressed to the governor on the phone sometime this weekend.

On a personal note, it was great to see some students out there on the streets. I'm starting to feel like the moratorium campaign is something Nashville is ready for. But while the afternoon was overwhelmingly positive, there were definitely some people who stopped 30 ft before the line to avoid being handed a flyer. It's a perfect metaphor for their mental response- people stop way before the point where they have to actually think about it. They read the headlines about Holton but skip the article. (If they did, they would be appalled!) Here's my proposition: instead of going out of our way to avoid the situation, let's go out of the way to fix the situation. As a result, not only will there be less tragedy in our lives, but also in the lives of our children.

So how do we do it? We already are. We did it at the corner of 21st and Blakemore yesterday. We did it at 25th and West End this morning. We did it by the office this afternoon. And we've got more coming tomorrow with the phone bank and Monday at the capital.

I'll see you there.


Out on the Corner

by Kathryn Lea (TCASK State Board of Directors, Hillsboro High School)

Today a group of death penalty opponents stood on the corner as Vanderbilt football fans passed us. They may not be our normal crowd of supporters, but considering the hour and the crowd the response was surprisingly good.

For the most part I held signs saying "Honk for Justice" and "Do Not Execute Daryl Holton." Although there were the normal responses of people trying to ignore us, the passengers of the cars were often sympathetic. And there's nothing quite like a car of college students honking and cheering to make abolitionists feel appreciated.

Some pedestrians were less friendly to our message, telling us they supported the death penalty and would even pull the switch. We did manage to pass out around two hundred fliers to the people who showed the slightest signs of support or apathy. Two people actually made calls to the governor's office on the sidewalk, opposing the execution of the mentally ill. (And if you haven't made a call to Bredesen yet, now is the time. Just let him know that his constituents don't agree with deliberate murder, no matter what it's called.)

There were also some great pedestrians who stopped to let us know how much they supported the issue, including Dennis, a ticketseller who made a call to the governor, Rick, who joined us holding signs, and Brian, a Scientologist who's active in the human rights movement.

This afternoon we'll be out by TSU for their game, and with any luck we'll find more great people who don't think we have the right to kill anyone. There will probably be more death penalty supporters who think electrocuting a human being is acceptable. But it doesn't matter: the point is that we're getting the message out. As Harry Simpson said today, at least they're thinking about the issue. Because you can support executions, and you can oppose them halfheartedly, but it's hard to ignore them when a group of dynamic abolitionists is standing on the corner drawing attention. So honk for abolition-let's get the message out!

Friday, September 15, 2006


Getting the Message Out

I just got back from spending an hour on the corner of 21st Avenue North and Blakemore/Wedgewood with six terrific TCASK volunteers getting the message out to everyone stuck in rush hour traffic about the state of Tennessee's intention to execute a mentally ill man on Tuesday. We held signs, talked to passers by, and handed out over 250 flyers with information on Daryl Holton's case and a message for the Governor along with his phone number. Even if only a fraction of those people call, not a bad way to spend an hour. In addition to which we got two media hits out of the event, including an interview on News Channel 5 which should air at 10:00 tonight, if anyone's watching.

Plus, it was a fun time. And it's not too late for you to get in on the fun. We'll be doing two more public education events tomorrow, at 10:30 am at 25th and West End and at 5:00 pm at Woodland and 2nd. Why those places? Because you want to go where the people are, and those two places are where Vanderbilt and TSU will be playing their football games tomorrow. So come and join us. Just meet us at the TCASK office (at 508 Main Street) a half an hour before the event. Give us a call at (615) 256-3906 and let us know that you're coming and that you want to participate, and we'll make sure that we have enough signs and flyers for you.

And thanks again to James, Jennifer, Lillian, Paul, Andrea, and Melissa, a great group that certainly got 'er done this evening.



As of this writing, the U.S. Sixth Circuit has still not ruled on the appeal and application for a stay brought on behalf of Daryl Holton by the Federal Public Defender's Office. While Holton has been diagnosed with major depression and PTSD, the state has consistently maintained that he is mentally competent to waive his appeals and "volunteer" for execution.

But, as abolitionists, we're not going to sit around and wait on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. We have work to do (check out our schedule below and see when you can help out). This case demonstrates how vast the gulf is between our scientific understanding of mental illness and the legal definition of competence. The state doesn't deny that Holton suffers, both now and at the time of the crime, from mental illness, but it still maintains, just as it did in the cases of Paul Dennis Reid and Gregory Thompson, that individuals with serious mental illnesses are competent to make legal decisions or to be executed. With around 25% of death row inmates suffering from severe mental illnesses, this is a serious issue that must be addressed, and TCASK intends to continue to bring it to the public attention.

But for right now, get ready to hit the streets, because we aren't going to wait around and do nothing. Come out and join us at one of the times listed below and then everyone get ready for Monday when we'll rally at the capitol and then march to Holy Name to make our opposition to an immoral and ineffective public policy as clear as day!

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Stop the Execution of Daryl Holton

Daryl Holton's execution is still scheduled for September 19th, despite clear evidence of his severe mental illness. As the execution approaches, it is incumbent upon us to make the public aware of this grievous miscarriage of justice. Therefore, TCASK needs you to stand up and be counted!

On Friday evening and twice during the day on Saturday we will position ourselves in small teams at busy intersections and use signs and flyers to alert Tennesseans to the homicide to be carried out in their names on September 19th. TCASK teams will be doing similar actions around the state. TCASK will provide the signs and flyers, but we need you to provide the people.

We need people at the following times:

Friday, September 15th, 4:30 - 6:00 (meet at the TCASK office at 4:00) - 12 volunteers

Saturday, September 16th, 10:30 - 12:00 (meet at the TCASK office at 10:00) - 6 volunteers
5:00 - 6:30 (meet at the TCASK office at 4:45) - 8 volunteers

Sunday, September 17th, 5:30 - 8:30 Phone banking at the Nashville Peace and Justice Center - 6 volunteers (please bring cell phones)

Please email as soon as possible and let me know when you can help and please feel free to forward this announcement to other interested individuals.

Thank you for your commitment to abolition. With your help, I know that we can stop this execution and eventually bring about an end to the barbaric spectacle of state sponsored killings in Tennessee.


Holton's Case Appealed to the Sixth Circuit

The East Tennessee Federal Public Defenders have appealed Judge Thomas Phillip's decision that Daryl Holton is mentally competent to end his appeals to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court. The crux of their appeal is that the District Court unconstitutionally denied Holton's attorneys the chance to present evidence contrary to that of the court appointed expert, even though they had other experts who had evaluated Holton ready to testify that he was not mentally competent to waive his appeals.

Considering the fact that no one contests the fact that Holton suffers from severe mental illness, including major depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it seems only fair that courts should here testimony from all relevant sources. Yet the Federal P.D.s were not allowed to present their own witnesses or have any meaningful contact with the court appointed evaluator, leaving no one specifically looking after Holton's interest in a clear violation of his constitutional rights.

While we are hopeful that this appeal will be successful, TCASK will continue to prepare to oppose the execution until we can be absolutely sure that there is a stay that will hold in place. So check your emails and get ready to take action on Monday or even this weekend.

You can read the full appeal here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Immoral, Unethical, and Unholy

This week's Register, the official paper of the Catholic Diocese of Middle Tennessee, ran a very good article about the upcoming executions in Tennessee. It's really wonderful to see my Catholic church making public its opposition to the brutal practice of state killing. As we move toward a moratorium and future abolition, all kinds of messengers are going to be crucial, but using the powerful moral messages of churches that are opposed to capital punishment, especially here in the buckle of the Bible belt, is a tool too powerful to overlook. So thank you to Rick Musacchio and all the great reporters over at the Register and, of course, Bishop David Choby. We appreciate your compelling voices.

Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Innocence: It's PEOPLE!

If you are one of our faithful readers, then you know that Juan Roberto Melendez, the 99th death row exoneree, was in Tennessee last weekend to give the keynote address to the Tennessee Student Conference Against the Death Penalty. He also told his story at a house party in Nashville on Friday night. And what a story it is.

Juan was convicted of a 1984 murder and armed robbery in Florida and spent 17 years, 8 months, and 1 day on that state's death row before evidence that the prosecutor had before his trial, evidence including the confession of the true killer and 16 documents corroborating that confession, came to light and led to his exoneration. To hear Juan's story, a story of loss, pain, and struggle, but also of hope and healing, is to be reminded in the most vivid way that the death penalty has frighteningly high human cost.

People have said that the 123 exonerations from death row prove that the system works, that errors are corrected. I would hazard a guess that none of these people have ever met Juan , who, after nearly 18 years was released with $100, a t-shirt, and not so much as an apology from the state of Florida. The system working would not take 17 years, 8 months, and 1 day of a man's life away without so much as a thought. And, as Juan reminds us, he was not saved by the system, but in spite of it.

I can't wait to bring Juan back to Tennessee at some point, so more and more people can understand, on the most intimate, personal, in your gut level, how dangerously and fatally flawed the death penalty system is. One Juan Melendez is too many. But there are over 100 stories just like his.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Introducing the TCASK Student Caucus

There are long days and then there are long days. Sometimes you have those days that are just tiring and go one forever, where you just collapse at the end of them. And then there are long days that are just packed with activity. Those are the days where you are up and running around all day, but, at the end, though you are exhausted, you lay back and, before falling into a very deep sleep, can take a deep breath and be proud of the day you just spent. And Saturday was an example of the latter.

Because on Saturday, more than forty students from across Tennessee arrived at MTSU at 8:30 am (some having driven from Chattanooga or Memphis, to participate in the TCASK Student Conference Against the Death Penalty. The conference began with an inspiring address of State Representative Larry Turner in which he told students, "You are the present, don't let anyone tell you to wait for the future!"Students then had two series of workshops, focusing on campus organizing, the moratorium campaign, campus events, fundraising, and high school challenges, with lunch sandwiched in between. After the second round of workshops came break out sessions in which students formed the working groups that they would continue to work with throughout the year, networking between campuses across the state.

After brief pause for school delegations to meet among themselves and bring together the resources and skills they'd received in the different workshops. Then it was time for elections. Because the conference was designed to bring skills and new perspectives to students, but it was also designed to create a structure to facilitate student involvement by founding the TCASK Student Caucus. So students elected their leaders. Including chairs of each working group, a secretary, and two co-chairs of the caucus, one high school and one college student, to represent the student caucus on the board of TCASK. So the TCASK Board of Directors is now proud to welcome Allen McQueen in his new role, and Lillian Siman as our student representatives!

When you have students like this, willing to get up early on a Saturday morning and work all day to develop into leaders of the abolition movement, you know that you are headed in the right direction. Congratulations and thank you to all the students who took part. I know that we can expect great things from all of you!

Friday, September 08, 2006


Get Ready . . . Get Set . . .

Tomorrow is the big day, the TCASK Student Conference. We have high school and college students coming from Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, McKenzie, Murfreesboro, all over the state. They'll hear Juan Melendez talk about spending nearly 18 years on Florida's death row for a crime that he didn't commit. They'll hear State Representative Larry Turner speak about his fight to end the death penalty in Tennessee. They'll work with student organizers and activists from around Tennessee to build their skills and bring the abolition movement home to their classrooms and campuses. And, hopefully, they will never see Alex's exhausted body lying in a corner.

My word! There is a lot of work that goes into such an event! Over the last few days we've been tweaking workshops (we'll be finalizing one in the office this afternoon), and preparing our handouts. We've been putting together our registration packets, full of goodies and resources for students to call on. We've been pulling together our video collections for each participating campus, including "The Empty Chair" and the ABA's call for a moratorium! I'll be picking Juan Melendez up at the airport in just a few hours and we have an event with him this evening here in Nashville. Phew. It has been pretty crazy.

And none of it would have been possible without some terrific volunteers. First and foremost, TCASK once again owes a huge debt of gratitude to Professor Amy Staples, who has set up the event on campus and has been doing a ton of the leg work. Then we need to thank Andrea Eller, Melissa O'Flinn, and the whole MTSU TCASK Chapter that have made this workshop possible and will be stuffing folders this very afternoon. And, of course, we have to thank the student working group who inspired the idea and have worked to make it happen: Kathryn and Luke Lea, Kate Adcock, and Allen McQueen. These guys rock!

So, I'll try not to fall over during the next day or so, and I am sure that the TCASK Student Conference will be a terrific success! And there's still time for you to show up at MTSU tomorrow and take part in this great event!

See you there!

Thursday, September 07, 2006


News Coverage - It's a Beautiful Thing

Today's Shelbyville Times Gazette has a good piece about Daryl Holton's recent date in court and the court's declaration that he is, in fact, competent to waive his appeals. The piece takes a look at how our society misunderstands mental illness and features TCASK fairly prominently. I love it when we have a good media hit!

The media, obviously, play a huge role in shaping public perception of events, including executions. So a question we continually grapple with is, how do we get our message out there through media outlets that may not be friendly to the abolitionist position? One method is to become an informational resource for the media. We are experts on the Tennessee death penalty system, at least compared to news reporters who are asked to cover a bunch of different issues every day. So we have to make sure that we provide accurate information for reporters whenever they call us. That way, for instance, when there were 5 executions scheduled for June 28th, including Paul Dennis Reid and Sedley Alley, reporters would call us and ask how many of those were real dates. Another example leads us to the Shelbyville Times Gazette article referred to above. We get news out and we do it quickly. When the Holton decision was made on Tuesday, we had a press release out that afternoon. So at the same time as reporters were hearing about the decision on the wire, they were receiving, by email and fax, the TCASK press release with quotes and background information already there for them. If you've got it, use it!

And that brings us to the final point about news coverage: give them something to cover. The media wants stories that are interesting. So whenever you do an event, make sure there are good visuals for print and TV outlets. And we try to get a media advisory out which lets the media know that something worth covering will be happening. In the same way, w try to include a hook in our press releases, give them catchy titles and good concise quotes. And sometimes it pays off with good news stories that present our side of the issue.

Read the full Times Gazette article here.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


The Debate Continues

Yesterday, C-Span aired a forum by the Brookings Institute on the death penalty. This forum looks to be a really informative glimpse of the death penalty system. This is a long program of about two hours, but if you have the time, definitely take a look or a listen to it. You just click on the link above and scroll down until you see "Brookings Institute Panel on the Death Penalty." I'm listening to it as I'm working in the office today.

One thing that strikes me, as usual, is the insistence of pro-death penalty advocates referring to the death penalty as being "justice" particularly for the victims. As if executing only poor people, and targeting the mentally ill and racial minorities, could ever be just. Still, I think that having open debates is crucial, so I would commend the Brookings Institute for having this panel and I hope that some of you get to watch it, even as we gear up to oppose another state sponsored killing in our own state.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


In the News

Wow. Four blog posts in one day! This man is blog crazy!

Sadly, there's just a lot of news to report when executions are on the way. I wanted to wish everyone a good night and tell y'all that News Channel 4 at 10 should be carrying a story about Daryl Holton which should feature TCASK. Hopefully some of us can watch it and see if it's a good one.


Holton Denied Relief

U.S. District Judge Thomas Phillips, ruling from the bench this afternoon, declared that Daryl Holton is competent to waive his appeals, thus clearing the way for Holton to be executed in less than two weeks. In doing so, the judge ignored clear evidence that Holton has suffered from major depression and psychosis for more than twenty years, that Holton was suffering from these conditions at the time of the crime, and that Holton has a long series of suicidal impulses which may now be guiding his behavior, especially when we take into account his recent decision to die by electrocution rather than lethal injection.

The sad fact is, of course, that under the ludicrously narrow definition of competence set up by state law, the judge may be, in a strictly legalistic sense, right. Our legal definitions of incompetence have not evolved in 100 years, while our medical understanding of mental illness has increased exponentially. Thus, a man with clearly diagnosed mental illness directing his actions both currently and at the time of the crime is set to be murdered by the state of Tennessee only fourteen days from now.

The one ray of hope escaping from the court proceedings today is that the judge has agreed to issue a Certificate of Appealability. This document would say that reasonable jurors could disagree over the findings and might help convince the Sixth Circuit to grant a stay. However, there is certainly no guarantee, so we at TCASK will continue our plans for clemency and vigiling.

Download a Daryl Holton flyer to post in your school, workplace, church etc.


Fingers Crossed, Prayers, and Good Vibes

Today, the U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Phillips will be hearing arguments from the state and the Federal Public Defender's office regarding the report issued on Friday by Dr. Bruce Seidner concerning Daryl Holton's competency to drop his appeals and choose to be executed (by electrocution, no less).

Although Dr. Seidner's report has not been made public, we do know that the defense will not be allowed to present witnesses who may have a differing view than that presented by Dr. Seidner. We are hopeful, at the very least, that this refusal of the court to hear from all the relevant experts will provide an avenue of appeal if the outcome of today's hearing is not what we hope.

Holton, who suffers from severe depression and psychosis has been on Tennessee's death row since 1999. He is the third Tennessee inmate to attempt to drop his appeals this year. So keep you fingers crossed and send good thoughts in the direction of Chattanooga and the Federal PD's office. But also learn more about Holton's case and the issue of mental illness. Then write a letter to the editor of your local paper and point out that we should be treating the mentally ill, not killing them. And continue to check your email and check back here to follow the case's progress.


So, What Are You Doing This Weekend?

You could party. You could take the time and clean the house (mine could use it). You could go to the lake while it's still warm out. But if you are a student in Tennessee, all of those are the wrong answer, because this Saturday at MTSU, you should be attending the TCASK Student Conference Against the Death Penalty! With all the craziness surrounding the office recently (a new director, two execution dates coming up) it would be easy to forget that we have the Student Conference coming up, but we don't intend to do that.

The Student Conference will provide tools and skills for students to take back to their campuses to organize effectively to end the death penalty! And that's simply too important to let go by. . The conference will include addresses by State Representative Larry Turner and death row exoneree Juan Melendez. It includes workshops on campus organizing, event planning, high school challenges, fundraising, and the moratorium campaign. There will be working groups formed to continue the work outside the conference. And we'll have the chance to elect student representatives to the TCASK board! It's gonna rock!

So if you're a student in Tennessee, or if you know any students, register for the TCASK Student Conference! It's free, it includes free lunch, and it should be a great event!

Friday, September 01, 2006


Let's Talk

One of the major reasons for beginning this blog almost ten months ago was to provide a public forum for discussion among the abolitionist community along with distributing information on Tennessee's broken death penalty system and our work to end it to an end. However, we haven't done as well as I would have liked at opening the blog for comments from everyone. I know that some people have expressed frustration at the delay in posting comments and the necessity of a blogger identity to post a comment at all.

Previously, if someone posted a comment, it was first sent to the moderator for approval and, once approved, it was posted. After pondering this policy, and listening to what a number of you have had to say about it, I've decided that it isn't in our best interest. So, as of today, all comments will immediately show up on the blog. Additionally, anyone can comment, regardless of whether or not they have a blogger identity. Finally, anonymous comments will be allowed (if anyone checked out the blog last night, you would have seen a comment from "anonymous" saying "booga booga booga" - this was just me testing the new setting).

TCASK wishes to have the broadest possible discussion with as many people as possible, so we've put these new blog settings in place. A a quick caveat, we do ask that offensive language, including both word choice and sentiment, be avoided. I still remain the moderator of the blog and retain the right to remove any comments which fail to meet this condition. However, I will not remove comments for any other reason. I hope that this furthers our discussion around the state and the country.

Have a great Labor Day weekend, everybody!