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Monday, April 30, 2007


New Execution Protocols Released

It appears that the Tennessee Department of Corrections, after a hidden and secret process, has released new execution protocols today. TDOC has decided to stay with the same three drug cocktail that it always used, just cleaning up the edges of the problem. Even though a study last week revealed that this exact cocktail often basically amounts to torture, the department has decided that it is the "humane" way to execute someone. When we remember the gruesome botched executions (that used this protocol) in Ohio, Florida, and California, we know just how wrong they are!

You can check out more complete coverage by the Tennessean here.


Getting Attention

So it doesn't matter what news station you tune into tonight, you should see a story on extending the Governor's moratorium! Two hours ago, TCASK held a press conference with Sister Helen Prejean, along with leaders of the Nashville faith community and family members of murder victims who oppose the death penalty. The group presented a letter to the Governor signed by nearly 200 faith leaders from all across Tennessee, calling on the Governor to extend his current moratorium until a complete study of Tennessee's death penalty system (which is broken according to the American Bar Association) can be completed.

Speaking at the press conference TCASK Executive Director Reverend Stacy Rector introduced the speakers and laid out the frightening facts about Tennessee's death penalty system - the lack of preservation of DNA evidence or avenues to bring meritorious claims of innocence to light for instance. Next Clemmie Greenlee, whose son of 29 was murdered in December of 2003, spoke calling on the Governor to not kill in her name! Baptist minister Mark Caldwell spoke about the universal belief in fairness, regardless of a person's belief in the morality of capital punishment, and Reverend Sonnye Dixon (a former president of the Nashville NAACP) told Governor Bredesen that he was praying for the Governor and prayed that he could have the power to stand against the racism in Tennessee's death penalty system, citing the large proportion of death row inmates of color that were tried by all white juries. Finally Sister Helen spoke flanked by leaders from the Catholic, Episcopal, United Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches.

It was a powerful reminder of the injustice in the death penalty system and the call for justice that is so strongly rooted throughout all faith traditions. And all four major television stations were present along with NPR, Metro Networks Radio, the Nashville Scene, and the Tennessee Register. The Tennessean conducted a phone interview with TCASK later.

So no one can say that the Governor doesn't know how people of faith around Tennessee feel! And by taking action here, you can let the Governor know how you feel to and really get his attention!

And check out pictures of the event (courtesy of TCASK official photographers, Harry and Karan Simpson) here.

Friday, April 27, 2007


Phillip Workman Video on U-Tube

Deadly Silence, the Phillip Workman clemency film, is now on U-Tube. Check it out here. It's also on the NCADP Blog.


As If He Needed Another Reason

Today's Tennessean carried an article detailing a recent scientific investigation into lethal injection. The study found that current protocols across the country may amount to torture! Has the Department of Corrections read this report? We don't know. Are they consulting proper medical experts? We don't know. But hopefully, with the Nashville Scene's victory in court we will at least get to find out.

But how much does the Governor need to hear? He knows that there hasn't been an independent and open review of execution protocols! He knows that the American Bar Association has found Tennessee's death penalty to be so broken that they've called on him to extend his current moratorium! He knows that hundreds of Tennesseans have called and emailed him over the last week calling on him to extend his moratorium until a full study (like HB 2162/SB1911 calls for) can be conducted! And on Monday he'll hear from Sister Helen Prejean and faith leaders across Tennessee, including Bishops of the Catholic and Episcopal churches, the president of the IMF, and Baptist ministers, that people of faith do not want to see a broken system continue to operate!

How much more does the Governor need to hear?

Thursday, April 26, 2007


News Roundup

As you can imagine, things are hectically busy, as we prepare an open letter to the Governor with hundreds of endorsers across the state and a press event with Sister Helen Prejean to present the letter on Monday! All at the same time as we work to pass our study legislation and prepare for the possible execution of Phillip Workman in less than two weeks! But the media isn't sleeping on the job either!

Today, the Nashville Scene carried a terrific story on the Governor's current position as he refuses to extend the moratorium. Check it out.

Also, on the bright side, Tennessee has one less death row inmate today! The Court of Criminal Appeals has overturned the death sentence of Ricky Thompson. The Chattanooga Times- Free Press has the story.

And, of course, you can check out the Scene's comment on the ruling in their favor to turn over the relevant information on the DOC's review of the executions protocols.

And don't forget to take action online to call on the Governor to extend the moratorium and forward the action alert to all your friends and family!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Victory for the Scene and for Open Government

Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman of Davidson County has ruled this morning in favor of the Nashville Scene's request for document pertaining to the development of new lethal injection prodecures by the Department of Corrections, which has so far worked to stifle the paper's request and to refuse the public any knowledge of how the state intends to carry out executions.

The Nashville Post has the story here.


Protect Life!

In one week, the Governor's temporary moratorium on executions will come to an end. On that same day, the House Judiciary Committee will consider the study commission bill. And one week later, Phillip Workman will be executed, despite strong evidence that he did not fire the shots that killed Lt. Oliver and therefore is not, according to the Tennessee Supreme Court, guilty of a capital crime.

But it's time for the Governor to act to extend his moratorium and guarantee Tennesseans a death penalty system that functions fairly and accurately! A system that does not target the poor and risk executing innocent people!

On Monday, the ABA released their report detailing the myriad flaws in the Tennessee death penalty system and calling for an extension of the moratorium until they can be addressed. You can check out a great story on WKRN here.

Next Monday, Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking and Death of Innocents, will be in Nashville and join faith leaders from around the state in calling on the Governor to extend his moratorium. The leaders will present a letter from theologians and pastors around the state expressing the need to maintain the moratorium.

And TCASK is working hard to bring the voices of thousands of regular Tennesseans to the Governor as well! If you haven't already, it's time for you to join our online campaign to flood the Governor's office with emails and faxes calling for an extension of the moratorium. And get all your friends and family to do the same! We're asking partner organizations to send this alert out to their own lists and we're sending out e-blasts to our supporters as well.

And we're calling on our supporters across the state to call the Governor on the phone and let him know that Tennesseans support fairness, accuracy, and justice! Over the last several nights, groups of dedicated TCASK activists have spent their evenings phone banking our supporters across the state (our database includes thousands of contacts) issuing a personal appeal to each member to call the Governor. We'll be there again tonight and, in all likelihood, tomorrow night as well, as we work to get the word out to each and every one of our supporters that now is the time to act!

What's been most exciting about this effort is that we've been able to use it as another opportunity to build leadership in the Nashville chapter of TCASK. A group of phone banking captains have each taken responsibility for recruiting callers for a different night, thus taking the onus off the state office so we can work on the legislature, faith leaders, and frame the ABA's message! So kudos to Kathryn Lea, James Staub, and Harry Simpson (who we can also thank for the pictures) for their leadership in working to stop a broken system from moving forward!

Keep up the good work!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Death Penalty Study Bill Takes Its First Steps!

Read TCASK's press release below:


Legislation Joins Growing Call to Examine Problems of Fairness and Accuracy

Nashville: The House Civil Practice and Procedure Subcommittee today unanimously approved legislation introduced by Representative Rob Briley (D- Nashville) and Senator Doug Jackson (D-Dickson) to create a commission to conduct a thorough study of the state’s death penalty system. The legislation follows a call yesterday by the American Bar Association, after a three-year assessment process of Tennessee’s capital punishment system that found deep flaws throughout the capital punishment process. The bill has co-sponsors from both parties and from East, Middle, and West Tennessee.

“The members of the committee affirmed today that Tennessee’s capital punishment system is a mess,” said Reverend Stacy Rector, Executive Director of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing. “The death penalty in Tennessee is dangerously broken and our state representatives need to take steps to address all its problems.”

According to the ABA Assessment, the Tennessee capital punishment system suffers from serious flaws. Tennessee continues to sentence people with severe mental disabilities to death, racial and geographic disparities continue to plague the system (40% of Tennessee’s death row population is African-American), and inadequate defense counsel and flaws in preserving DNA evidence cause questions regarding the reliability of death penalty convictions. Moreover, nearly all of Tennessee’s 102 death row inmates were indigent and could not afford a lawyer at trial. There are several cases where serious questions exist regarding the factual guilt or innocence of the convicted man.

“At the very least, Tennesseans deserve to know that the capital punishment system is functioning properly,” said Rector. “The only way to begin to address it flaws and ensure that an innocent person is not executed is to conduct a full study examining every aspect of the system to ensure its reliability.”

The proposed legislation would create a balanced study commission with representatives appointed by the Governor, the Senate, and the House, as well as lawyers for both the defense and prosecution, mental health advocates, and victims advocates. The commission would make recommendations to the legislature as to how the identified problems should be addressed. The bill passed with bi-partisan support and will now head to the full Judiciary Committee.

“We cannot stop with a review of our so-called ‘sloppy’ execution protocols,” said Rector. “We must examine the entire system in order to address the wide-ranging problems before Tennessee makes an irreversible mistake.”

# # #

Monday, April 23, 2007


ABA Joins the Fray!

Today the American Bar Association released its assessment of the Tennessee death penalty system. The report details a huge number of injustices and flaws in Tennessee's death penalty system and calls for a moratorium on executions until they can be addressed.

The assessment was conducted by a team of seven Tennessee legal experts, including a former Attorney General, a law professor, and a Federal judge, and finds that, of the 93 benchmarks set to guarantee the fair an accurate administration of the death penalty, Tennessee is only in full compliance with 7! Regardless of your feelings about the death penalty, that's got to be a scary number for you!

The report specifically sites the Paul House case several times and additionally finds that:
  • Racial and geographic disparities plague Tennessee's death penalty

  • DNA evidence does not have to be preserved at all stages of the process

  • Tennessee sentences people with severe mental disabilities to death

  • Problems with inadequate defense counsel persist.

  • There are inadequate mechanisms for examining claims of factual innocence.

The release of this report is extremely well-timed as we being our own push to ask the Governor to extend the moratorium. You can join in the action by clicking here to send an email and fax to the Governor calling on him to extend his moratorium, and you can forward the action page to all of your friends!

Take action now!

You can read more about the ABA report here and in today's Tennessean.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


History Repeating

Today marks the seventh anniversary of a painfully significant event in Tennessee's history: the execution of Robert Glen Coe. With Robert's execution, Tennessee resumed a dark practice which had not been employed in this state for 40 years. I will never forget the vigil at the prison as we stood silently in the cold night air, candles lit, waiting. A thick fog began to role in just before 1:00 a.m., the hour of execution. The line of state troopers and their vehicles parked on the road surrounding us were first swallowed up by the damp cloud. Then, the fog enfolded those of us standing vigil, chilling us to the bone, and finally encased the prison.
I was reminded of the scene from the movie, "The Ten Commandments" when the angel of death passes through Egypt--the scene that night at Riverbend Prison was Biblical. I have since heard that the fog hovered over the prison all night long. And yet, as I drove home that early morning shaking and teeth chattering from cold and emotion, just a few yards past the prison, the fog mysteriously lifted. I always imagined that fog was God's way of not having to look at what we in the state of Tennessee were doing that night a night falling during Holy Week and Passover, as we executed a severely mentally ill man.

Since then, Tennessee has executed only one other person, Sedley Alley in 2006. However, if the state gets its way, Philip Workman will be executed on May 9, only 7 days after the state's new execution protocol takes effect. Philip has already endured death watch three times, once coming within 45 minutes of being executed. If this execution moves forward, Philip will be forced to undergo a torturous fourth time on death watch, cruel and unusual to say the least.

Philip Workman was sentenced to death after a robbery gone bad in which a Memphis Police officer, Lt. Ronald Oliver was tragically shot and killed. However, Harold Davis, the eyewitness who identified Workman as the shooter, has since recanted his testimony, admitted that he perjured himself, passed a polygraph, and testified that he lied about seeing Workman shoot Oliver, a story corroborated by a woman with him at the time of the shooting and by crime scene photos which do not show Davis' vehicle parked where he said it was. Furthermore, no one who was at the scene remembers Davis being there. The evidence points to an accidental shooting of Lt. Oliver by another officer as a shoot out occurred at the Wendy's that evening.

At the time of his conviction, Philip Workman could not have been sentenced to death if he did not actually shoot the officer. A Tennessee Supreme Court Justice affirmed that if Workman did not fire the bullet, he could not be found guilty of capital murder. Though Workman does not deny that he robbed the Wendy's restaurant, he does not believe that a bullet from his gun killed Lt. Oliver. A man should not be executed based on the testimony of a career criminal who now concedes that he lied about seeing the shoot out.
This week has been such a violent one--the tragedy at Virgina Tech, the car bombings in Baghdad. When will it all stop? Why do we insist on addressing the violence in our world with more of the same? How can the death penalty solve anything? The truth is, it can't. How many lives will be taken before we accept the truth? Today marks a dark day in Tennessee's history. Let us hope that May 9 does not mark another.


Warms an Ol' Organizer's Heart

As we look to hire an organizer here in the TCASK state office, one of the big questions I always ask applicants is, "What is the difference between an activist and an organizer?" Basically, what is an organizer's goal? There are a lot of possible answers, but, for me, an organizer works to make themselves obsolete by empowering the people they work with to take effective action on their own.

It's a tough job and I don't know how regularly we all succeed, but today, I got an email from a TCASK member that reminded me that, occasionally, we do get it right. By permission, I'm going to share the email with all of you:

Just want to thank you again for being such a good leader and organizer for those of us from Memphis who have been working to end the death penalty in Tennessee, and especially for the Justice Day on the Hill experience. Without your leadership, I probably would not have requested an appointment with my reps for last week's Catholic Day on the Hill. I returned to Nashville with confidence to speak up about immigration reform because of my years of involvement in teaching English to immigrants and refugees. I brought two people with me from (my church) who had never done this before. (One) was especially concerned about health care and TennCare reform because of her job as a social worker with the elderly poor. And they looked to ME as if I knew what I was doing! You've made me a more effective advocate because I not only speak up locally now, but I am no longer timid about approaching our representatives who make policy decisions."

TCASK works hard to build the skill set of our activists with trainings and events like Justice Day on the Hill. It's really thrilling to know that we are succeeding!

Thank you to all the activists who are making our work a success!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Work for a Great Partner of the Abolition Movement

The ACLU of Tennessee is one of our most valued lobby partners in our efforts to bring an end to the death penalty here in Tennessee. And they do a lot of other terrific work as well. The ACLU is currently hiring an administrative coordinator. You can read the job description below, and please forward it to anyone who might be interested.

Administrative Coordinator
American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN)

The ACLU of Tennessee is a private nonprofit non-partisan membership organization whose mission is to protect and promote civil liberties through public education, advocacy, litigation, and legislative efforts.

The ACLU-TN is seeking an administrative coordinator who will assist the Executive Director, will manage the office, and coordinate volunteers. The Administrative Coordinator reports directly to the Executive Director and is part of a critical team that works to preserve the Bill of Rights.


Manage office, including bookkeeping, answering the telephone, responding to correspondence, preparing mailings, filing, and maintaining office supplies;

Create and maintain computer records and generate reports;

Prepare correspondence, draft memos and reports, and respond to member inquiries;

Recruit, train, and supervise volunteers;

Maintain website and coordinate and write content for website;

Write copy for and design newsletters;

Triage intake and provide general information and referral services and revise as needed resource book;

Oversee production of public education and fundraising materials;

Manage processing of donations and memberships including checks and credit cards, reporting gifts to national office, coordinate changes and updates with National, generating acknowledgment letters and maintaining paper records;

Assist with special projects, including implementation of public education and fundraising events


Proficiency in Microsoft Office 2003, Quickbooks, and Microsoft Publisher or other design programs;

Experience with or willingness to learn web design program;

A Bachelor’s Degree;

Excellent writing and analytical skills and strong verbal and interpersonal skills;

Ability to take the initiative and work creatively and independently;

Work or volunteer experience that demonstrates a confident and professional work style, including a respect for confidentiality and the ability to exercise good judgment in stressful circumstances;

Ability to handle multiple tasks, work well under pressure, and meet deadlines;

Sense of Humor
Salary and Benefits:
$26,000 - $31,000 (commensurate with experience) with excellent health and dental insurance benefits

To Apply:
Applicants should submit a letter of interest, resume, and a list of three references to: Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director, ACLU-TN, Post Office Box 120160, Nashville, TN.

Application Deadline: Review of resumes will begin will begin April 27, 2007. Position will remain open until the right person is found.

The ACLU-TN is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and encourages women, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBT individuals, and people with disabilities to apply.


Open Government Indeed

Governor Phil Bredesen has traditionally been a big proponent of open government, but it seems like the Governor has gone back on his own principles when it comes to life and death. Almost three months ago, the Governor made a moral and brave decision to revamp the state's execution protocols, which he referred to as "sloppy." Yet since that time, there has been no openness in the government whatsoever. The Governor directed Department of Corrections Commissioner George Little to update the procedures, but there has been absolutely no way for the public to have any information about what is happening! Put simply, we don't know who is being consulted, what new execution protocols may involve, who will be carrying them out, etc.

When an execution is carried out, it is done in the names of all the people of Tennessee. Tennesseans, therefore, deserve to know whether the protocols for such an execution are acceptable to them. Instead, the Department of Corrections has refused to release any details of the protocols, stating that they will become public record when they present them to the Governor on May 2nd - with Phillip Workman scheduled to be executed less than a week later on May 9th!

How are we, the people of Tennessee, supposed to have any time to examine these procedures and ensure they meet basic standards of humanity and decency in less than a week!?

The Nashville Scene has sued the Department of Corrections for information regarding the development of the new protocol, but the state Attorney General remains obstinate in his claims that such information is "privileged." The Nashville City Paper has full coverage here.

And if anyone thinks that this issue isn't serious, I'd urge you to check out the Death Penalty Information Center's list of botched executions so we can be aware of exactly what we risk if the Department of Corrections and the Governor do not take this issue seriously and conduct a thorough and open review!

You can call Dorinda Carter, the Communications Officer for TDOC, at (615) 253-8144 and tell her that Commissioner Little owes it to the people of Tennessee to make the review of Tennessee's execution protocols open to the public and open to review by independent experts!

Monday, April 16, 2007


And the Media Takes Notice!

The Chattanooga Times Free Press had an article today talking about tomorrow's hearing of the death penalty study bill. Hamilton County D.A. Bill Cox is quoted as saying he supports the legislation which is great news! People across the spectrun are realizing that the death penalty system in Tennessee is deeply and seriously flawed and needs to be looked at! And once again, the Paul House case is mentioned.

One quick note, the bill will be heard by the House Subcommittee on Civil Practice and Procedure tomorrow, not the Senate Judiciary.

Read the entire article here.


Legislative Action (Finally)

It's pedal to the metal time in the Tennessee General Assembly! And for the first time, TCASK has the possibility of actually passing legislation, in this case legislation to create a study commission to bring to light the deadly flaws in Tennessee's capital punishment system.

TCASK's legislative efforts got a terrific boost last week when two Republicans, Knoxville Representative Bill Dunn and Memphis Representative Delores Gresham, signed on as co-sponsors of the study bill! This makes our bill bi-partisan and proves once again that justice is not, and should not be, a partisan issue!

Even more importantly, the study bill will be voted on tomorrow at noon by the House Civil Practice and Procedure Subcommittee! This is the first time in recent history that any of our death penalty legislation may be able to move. You can view the entire membership of the subcommittee here, but two representatives particularly need to hear from their constituents immediately, Cookeville Democrat Henry Fincher (below) and Columbia Republican Tom DuBois (pictured at right). I've spoken to both of them and they remain on the fence regarding this legislation. So if you live in Cookeville or Columbia, or you know anyone who does, pick up the phone and call or have them call their representative and tell them:

1) You are a constituent
2) Tennesseans deserve a death penalty system they can trust
3) Please vote in favor of HB 2162, a bi-partisan effort to create a fair and balanced commission to examine the death penalty and guarantee that it is functioning fairly and accurately!

You can reach Representative Fincher at (615) 741-1875 or email him . You can reach Representative DuBois at (615) 741-7441 or email him . And of course, if you live in Knoxville or Memphis, call or write to Representatives Gresham and Dunn respectively and thank them for co-sponsoring HB 2162!


6th Circuit Lottery

The Enquirer, out of Cincinnati, had an in-depth piece in this Sunday's edition regarding the manner in which U.S. Sixth Circuit Appeals Court (which handles Tennessee death row appeals) deals with death penalty cases. The story prominently features the Paul House case.

The conclusions of the article should scare anyone. Inmates live or die based solely on what random drawing of a three judge panel they receive. For instance:

That's what happened last year when two Ohio inmates sought to delay their executions so they could join an appeal challenging lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment. Jerome Henderson won his case in a 2-1 vote, but Jeffrey Lundgren went before a different panel and lost 2-1.
Lundgren was executed.

You can read the whole story here.

This article once again demonstrates how broken the death penalty system is in Tennessee and across the country. How can anyone claim that "justice is being done" when people literally live or die based on the luck of the draw? And for all those death penalty supporters out there who say that we need to get rid of these liberals who clog up the system, just think about Paul House, who the U.S. Supreme Court ruled no reasonable jury would convict, overruling the 8 Republican appointees who ignored the unbelievable preponderance of evidence pointing to his innocence!

Friday, April 13, 2007


From the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

It's interesting how many issues intersect with our abolition work. This action item has been sent out from the NCADP in Washington, D.C. and I thought that I would pass it along to our blog reading activists!

Dear Friends:

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), of which NCADP is a member organization, is planning an unprecedented effort to encourage the Congress to grant voting rights to the District of Columbia, and NCADP has been asked to take part in the grassroots and legislative outreach components. On April 16th, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, along with DC Vote, numerous coalition partners, and the Office of the Mayor, will host what they hope to be the largest demonstration for D.C. voting rights in history.

Our support for this effort is based on the fact that we have an interest in assuring that the people of the District of Columbia, who have overwhelmingly demonstrated their opposition to capital punishment, have a vote on this issue in the House of Representatives. Some of you will remember that in 1994, NCADP and other organizations led a successful effort to defeat a referendum to reinstate the death penalty in D.C.. That referendum had been mandated by a law passed by Congress to place the measure on the D.C. ballot.
There are two ways you can make your voice heard for voting rights and LCCR has laid out both options, just click the links below:
If you live in the District or will be near the District on Monday, April 16, please click here:

If you live outside the District, please click here:

It is not often that we will call on people to help in an effort that is not directly death penalty related, but this is such a watershed issue and the anti-death penalty heritage of the DC citizens makes this effort extraordinarily important.

Thank you again for your support...

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Burning the Post Midnight Oil or Why I Hate Email

Please read your TCASK Abolition Update email today. PLEASE!

Yes, it's true that the Tennessee Department of Corrections needs to know that one paltry hearing with almost no warning or notice is not enough to allow Tennesseans to truly have input on a process as serious as our state killing a person (see previous posts here, here, and here). But that's not the reason that I want you so desperately to read your email.

Honestly, the reason is because I hate computers. Now Stacy and I are not computer people, but we have some terrific volunteers who help us out with all stuff techy. Joe Irrera has done an amazing job creating a database for TCASK which allows us to send out targeted email blasts, sort our list by legislative district, or geographic area, or anything. But we are having huge troubles getting our email program working. And we can never seem to get an e-blast out properly.

So last night, we were at it again. We started the email program and went out for a dinner meeting, only to return to find both office computers crashing. So there I was, a little after 8:00 at night and having to restart and resend and try ensure that we don't send the same email to someone 3 or 4 times.

Eventually, the wonderful James Staub joined me (James knows so much more about computers than I do that it's staggering) and tweaked and tugged at the machies until we finally got all the emails out. But by that time, it was about 12:30 or so. And without James, I might never have gotten home last night!

So, please read your email and take action to ensure that we get a real public hearing (that the public actually knows about in advance). And please know that, if your emails aren't formatted properly, or you're getting double emails, or sometimes none at all, we certainly are trying! Hopefully, we will very soon have all of this figured out and we can concentrate on those other things - like the pesky little details of actually abolishing the death penalty!

(As a funny aside, I had tried to include some pictures with this post, but, for some reason, I cannot get my computer to properly upload them. Ah, irony.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


The Catholics Move Against TN's Death Penalty

Tomorrow will be Catholic Day on the Hill and pushing for legislation to conduct a full study of Tennessee's death penalty will be on the top of the agenda. The most recent edition of the Tennessee Register focuses strongly on the death penalty. The article on the upcoming day on the hill events leads off talking about our study legislation. And an editorial (on page 14 - you can view the entire Register here) also calls for the passage of our bill.

The Catholic Public Policy Commission is one of TCASK's most important legislative partners. Tomorrow, representatives will hear from hundreds of Catholics about why this bill is important. And they've already heard it on the NAACP's lobby day, NAMI Day on the Hill, and Justice Day on the Hill. The more voices raised against this unjust policy, the better!


Get Real!

Well, the Governor did it. He had a hearing, so he's all about "open government," to talk about the execution protocols. Of course, TDOC did it on the afternoon of Holy Thursday, a time at which I'm usually already fasting and was on my way out of town. I didn't hear anything about it until Tuesday afternoon and I didn't see it in the papers until Wednesday, the day before!

And of course the other question is how is the public supposed to comment on a protocol that we haven't seen yet? Is it designed by doctors? I don't know. Has it been reviewed by independent experts? I don't know. Will the completed protocols be available for meaningful review before we carry out an execution (Phillip Workman is scheduled to die on May 9th)? I don't know. But I doubt it.

And really, this should be a no brainer. A good piece in The City Paper, "Take Time Deciding Ultimate Penalty," today makes this point. No one should be in favor of carrying out executions in an inhumane manner. Florida is taking this process seriously and has had a number of serious hearings and discussion about the process. Why can't Tennessee have some real hearings, with a fair amount of warning in advance and a chance for people all around the state to make comments and share their concerns.

Monday, April 09, 2007


Shelby County Commission Calls for a Moratorium


Nashville: Tennessee’s Largest County joined over 150 municipalities nationwide today in calling for a halt to executions. The Shelby County Commission voted 8-3 to approve a bi-partisan resolution calling on the Tennessee General Assembly to halt executions for two years until racial disparities in death sentences and the risk of executing an innocent person can be addressed. The Commission’s call fits well with a move in the state legislature to pass legislation creating a commission to conduct a thorough study of the state’s death penalty system introduced by Senator Doug Jackson (D-Dickson) and Representative Rob Briley (D-Nashville).

“The Shelby County Commission has taken a bold and necessary step today,” said Reverend Stacy Rector, Executive Director of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing. “Tennessee’s death penalty system is dangerously broken and our state representatives need to take steps to fix it before we consider carrying out any more executions.”

Nationwide over 120 men have been freed from death rows after evidence of their innocence came to light, roughly one exoneration for every nine executions in the same period of time. African-Americans make up 40% of Tennessee’s death row, while comprising only 17% of the population. A nationwide study found that a person was four times as likely to face the death penalty for the murder of a white victim then a victim of color.

“Tennessee’s death penalty is unfairly targeting the black community,” said Mrs. Johnnie Turner, president of the Memphis NAACP Branch, who testified before the Commission’s Legislative Committee. “I am proud that the County Commission acted to ensure that life and death decisions are not be meted out based on a person’s color.”

The moratorium that the resolution calls for would halt only executions for two years while the problems of Tennessee’s death penalty are examined. The trial and appellate processes would continue in their usual way. The Shelby County Commission joins the Nashville-Davidson Metro Council which has previously called for a moratorium on executions.

“The governments of the two largest counties in the state have now called for a moratorium on executions,” said Rector. “Our state policy-makers should take notice and act before Tennessee makes an irreversible error.”


CNN Tonight!

There is potentially some interesting news here.

CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” which airs at 10 p.m. East Coast time (check your local listings) is expected to air an investigative piece on Cameron Todd Willingham tonight.

Many of you will recall that Willingham – one of four people featured in NCADP’s report, “Innocent and Executed: Four Chapters in the Life of America’s Death Penalty” – was executed in Texas three years ago despite evidence that the fire that took his children’s lives was accidental, not intentionally set. The Chicago Tribune (which this month or next month might be winning a Pulitizer Prize for its death penalty reporting in Texas) broke the story about the faulty arson science behind Willingham’s conviction. You can read their story here.

We do not know at this time whether the CNN report will include any new information. Also, be advised that the report could very well be bumped if there is breaking news of any sort (Iraq, Alberto Gonzales, Anna Nicole Smith, etc.)

Friday, April 06, 2007


Good Friday Reflections

Yesterday at 3:00 p.m., a public hearing was held by the Tennessee Department of Corrections to get feedback on execution protocols in Tennessee. Until yesterday, the process of revising the protocols had occurred behind closed doors. The first that the TCASK office heard of this hearing was late Tuesday afternoon with the meeting scheduled to be held on Thursday. After some investigation, I was told that the Department had invited a variety of people to speak, including lawyers, medical personnel, and pharmacology experts. I had hoped for a hearing which provided information as to the inhumane-ness of the lethal injection protocol while also highlighting the state's lack of transparency and truncated time frame of only 90 days to fix a protocol that, by the Governor's own admission, is "sloppy" at best.

Upon arriving at the hearing, only two invited speakers were present, attorneys Kelly Henry and Mike Passino, who did an outstanding job of outlining the dire consequences of closed meetings without sufficient time for the Department to accomplish the task that they were given. No medical or pharmacological experts testified. Rev. Joe Ingle and Harmon Wray both spoke. Rev. Ingle spoke to the history of lethal injection, including the renunciation of the process by the man who created it for the state of Oklahoma, as well as referencing the association with the Third Reich who first utilized the procedure in concentration camps. Harmon Wray, when asked by Commissioner Little to speak only to the protocols, reminded all of us that Jesus was not concerned about protocols.

The hearing lasted less than an hour. TCASK did have several members present at the hearing, along with lawyers and some media. Unfortunately, the lack of notice given for this most important meeting did not allow us the time we needed to truly organize the way that we would have liked. As a pastor, my stomach felt sick as I sat in a room on Maundy Thursday, the day Jesus ate his final meal, to discuss how the state can strive to more humanely take a human life.

Furthermore, last night, John Seigenthaler interviewed Governor Bredesen on his PBS show One on One with John Seigenthaler about the issues facing Tennessee. With the courageous spirit of a true journalist, Mr. Seigenthaler asked the Governor about the current moratorium, to which the Governor responded that he believed that the commission could get the job done by May 2 in order that future executions be carried out in a "dignified" manner, executions such as that of Philip Workman scheduled in Tennessee on May 9th.

How on earth does the state kill a human being in a way that is dignified? There is nothing dignified about murder. Furthermore, Mr. Seigenthaler asked the Governor about the Paul House case to which the Governor replied that he wanted the courts to work it out, though the courts have not granted House justice in this case for over 20 years. And, even with the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that "no reasonable juror would have lacked a reasonable doubt" in this case, Paul House is still on death row.

On this Good Friday, as Christians reflect on the execution of Jesus, I hope that all of us will renew our commitment to end the inhumane practice of state killing, the same practice that took the life of Jesus and threatens to take the life of thousands within our nation, some of them innocent people. As Good Friday services are occurring this evening, I hope that those attending will remember human beings who are languishing on death rows, facing the same fate as Jesus at the hands of a state which chooses to usurp the role of God.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Holy Week and Executions

This week represents the Christian celebration of Holy Week, leading up to Good Friday (the day of Jesus Christ's execution) and Easter (the day of his resurrection). It should come as no surprise, then, that my own mind, more than ever, has turned to the state's decision to kill. But instead of boring you all with my own reflections, I thought that I would point out some more profound thoughts published in The Tennessean over the last two days.

Today, Reverend Joe Ingle, a long-time leader in the struggle against the death penalty, has a very moving piece regarding the decision of the Governor to hold hearings on the "proper" means of killing someone during the week when we remember Jesus' execution. Reverend Ingle writes, "It is also clear how inconsequential the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is to the state of Tennessee that it would actually publicly convene a gathering designed to kill citizens efficaciously in Tennessee during the very week Christians are contemplating the Roman state's killing of Jesus." Read the entire piece here.

At 3:00 today, the Department of Corrections will give the public it's first glimpse into what it is planning for Tennessee's "new and improved" method of executions. Yesterday's paper carried a articulate column by mike Passino calling for a true and open examination of the process, something Tennessee has so far not provided. You can read Passino's column here, and then come and join TCASK from 3:00 - 6:00 in the multimedia room of the Snodgrass Tower at 312 8th Avenue North to demand that the public be given a full opportunity to have input into the process!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


An Open Process?

When the Governor issued the 90 day moratorium in February, he stated that the current protocols for executions in the state of Tennessee were "sloppy" and needed to be revised. Unfortunately, the revision process to this point has occurred behind closed doors within the Department of Corrections, without vital input from the public. Even Florida's pro-death penalty Governor, Jeb Bush, recognized the importance of an open process in scrutinizing execution protocols and set up a public commission to do the work in Florida, a commission which held at least five hearings open to the public.

However, in today's Tennessean, an article by Shelia Burke, announces that an open, public hearing will be held on Thursday at 3:00 p.m. in the multimedia room of the Tennessee Snodgrass Tower, 312 8th Avenue North. Doctors and lawyers representing inmates on death row will be among those invited to speak.

This meeting is an important one for those of us who believe that the execution protocols in Tennessee are inhumane and that the Governor's current moratorium on executions should be extended past the May 2 deadline. 90 days is not enough time to address all the problems with the execution protocols, particularly considering major issues such as the appropriate dosages of the three chemicals used in the lethal injection process are currently not even written down. However, we should not stop with the execution protocols, but instead, continue the moratorium in order for a full study of the entire death penalty system to be conducted. If such problems exist in the protocols, how much greater must the problems be system wide?

If you are able to attend this meeting, I hope that you will. We need for officials to understand that people care about this issue. We need them to understand why the process must be open. We need them to allow enough time for a thorough examination of the protocols to occur. It is a matter of life and death. I hope to see you on Thursday.

Monday, April 02, 2007


Shujaa Graham in TN!

TN better brace itself, because it doesn't know what's about it hit it! Shujaa Graham arrived late last night. He'll be speaking at MTSU this morning, Tenn State tonight, and doing an interview in a story about Tennessee's push for a moratorium tonight. Then tomorrow, Shujaa will be addressing the Black Caucus of the Tennessee General Assembly and American Baptist College.

In 1973, Shujaa was convicted for the murder of a prison guard in California, and in 1976, after all black jurors were excluded from the jury, Shujaa, and African-American man, was sentenced to death. It took three more years to get Shujaa's death sentence overturned, and several more years before a fourth trial finally exonerated Shujaa and he was freed in 1981. Shujaa now serves on the board of directors of the Journey of Hope, which is where I was privileged to meet him for the first time last fall.

I would like to tell you that Shujaa's experience is unique, but, sadly, it is not. Shujaa is just one of the 123 men to be exonerated from death rows in America in the modern era (about 1 exoneration for every 9 executions in the same time period). More than half of those people were people of color, and Shujaa is also not unique in being a person of color tried before an all white jury. In Tennessee, a full quarter of the African-American men sentenced to death in Tennessee have been sentenced by all-white juries. This includes Erskine Johnson, convicted in Memphis (with a population roughly 50% African-American) of a 1985 murder, despite the fact that he was in St. Louis at the time. Johnson's death sentence has been overturned, but he is still serving a life sentence for a crime that he, in all likelihood, did not commit. And let's not forget Paul House.

I'm sure that Shujaa's visit will help us call attention to the deadly flaws in Tennessee's capital punishment system. Keep you eyes on news channel 2 tonight or tomorrow for Shujaa's story!