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Thursday, May 31, 2007



Last night, a small group gathered at Holy Name Catholic Church here in Nashville for a memorial for Philip Workman, three weeks after his execution. In the service, we remembered Workman's life and the lives he touched, as well as the life of Ronald Oliver and his family.

Reverend Joe Ingle, Workman's spiritual advisor for 12 years, told the story of Philip's last hours, of their crying and praying together, and of Workman calling as many of the people in his life as possible to say goodbye. Joe shared Workman's faith that they would see each other again, and his own hurt, the hole in his life on Tuesday or Thursday afternoons when he had previously visited his friend.
Kelley Henry, Workman's attorney, shared her disbelief that the execution had occurred. I can remember feeling the same way, simply not believing that we were actually killing Philip Workman on that night. Kelley spoke of the power of one. Workman lost at each level of appeal by only one vote. But the power of his one gesture on his last night on earth, asking to have his last meal delivered to a homeless person in Nashville, touched people across the world (it was's top story for two days running) and resulted in thousands of hungry people being fed in Nashville in the following nights.

I remember, as I was praying in the church, looking up at the crucifix and observing my Lord and savior suffering through another execution. Now I certainly do not equate Philip Workman, or any other human being, with Jesus Christ, and Workman was not sinless in his life (then again, neither am I), but gazing at the image of Christ killed by human hatred, looking around the room at people mourning Philip Workman, killed in vengeance for another life, thinking of Ronald Oliver and all victims of violence, I found myself wondering when we will take seriously Isaiah's reminder that vengeance is the Lord's and Ghandi's words that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


One Click Online Activism

A number of states are embattled right now over the future of the death penalty, and we are in a position to help quickly and easily right from our computer screens. yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's time for some quick-click online activism!

In North Carolina, the debate is raging over whether or not the state should reinstate its death penalty (there is currently a moratorium in place to look at execution procedures). You can click here to vote NO in the Charlotte Observer's online poll.

New Jersey is pushing to move from a moratorium to abolition. The Press of Atlantic City has an online poll about whether or not they should do so. Check it out and vote YES (scroll to the bottom of the page)!

And finally, in Illinois which has had a moratorium in place since Governor Ryan cleared its death row, there is a continuing fight to abolish the death penalty rather than bring it back. Vote against the death penalty in Illinois here.

Why bother? I'll admit that no one is going to end the death penalty based on some online polls (hardly a scientific sampling or a highly thought out policy debate), but across the country, we are seeing more and more of these polls swing to the abolition side, and, believe it or not, policy-makers look at these things. Each online poll that shows serious doubts about the death penalty in the public mind brings us one step closer to ending this policy once and for all. So exert your online democratic prerogative, and vote for an end to the death penalty today!

Friday, May 25, 2007


An Observation

When Sister Helen Prejean visited Nashville a few weeks ago, she presented a lecture at Belmont University which focused upon the various ways that the arts can broaden the dialogue around the death penalty. She shared a story of college students who used the visual arts to begin such a dialogue by erecting large canvasses on campus and asking that supporters of the death penalty sign their names in red paint while opponents of the death penalty sign their names in blue. The students discovered something quite interesting. The majority of those who opposed the death penalty painted their names boldly, in large, blue letters, claiming their position proudly. However, the majority of those who supported the death penalty, tended to write their names in very small, red letters as if to hide their opinions. Perhaps this artistic dialogue demonstrates a fact that I have already observed in other contexts, that though there seems to be much support for the death penalty, supporters are often timid about revealing their opinions publicly.

I find a similar dynamic at work in the fact that we execute people in Tennessee in the middle of the night, at 1:00 a.m., when most folks are in bed and don't have to be exposed to the gruesome ritual which is being carried out in our names. The same dynamic is also in play with the particular chemical cocktail the state chooses to use in the lethal injection protocol, which masks the dying process of the inmate so that the witnesses to the execution are not made uncomfortable. If there is nothing morally wrong with the death penalty, why do we go to such lengths to hide what we are doing?

TCASK hopes to encourage open, constructive dialogue around the issue of the death penalty. Clearly, we have a strong opinion but invite those who want to engage in conversation to do so. Our blog is one of the ways that we encourage the conversation. We do not edit the comments to our blog nor do we require that people identify themselves when they make comments. However, it strikes me that, often, those who have very strong opinions in support of the death penalty want to remain anonymous. Why is that?

I, for one, stand by my convictions and never shy away from claiming my beliefs as my own. Because I am so convinced that the death penalty is not in keeping with my Christian faith, devalues life, and is a complete failure as a public policy, I have dedicated my life to ending it in Tennessee. My hope is that all of us, regardless of where we stand on the issue, can dialogue in constructive, open ways as we struggle with the tough issues of our time.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


Study Bill Passes the Senate

"Son of a Gun!" Joe Sweat, the ACLU lobbyist turned to me as we stood in the Senate gallery this morning. The senate had just unanimously approved Doug Jackson's bill to create a study commission to examine Tennessee's death penalty. In fact, the bill had been on the Senate's consent calendar!

Had you told me, five months ago when we began this legislative session, that the Senate would have found any bill dealing with death penalty non-controversial, I probably would have laughed. Yet, with TCASK activists from all across the state writing to their legislators during our International Abolition Day Write-a-thons, visiting on Justice Day on the Hill, and responding to action alerts with calls and emails, that's exactly what happened.

And, of course, without the expert help of the Catholic Public Policy Commission, the ACLU, and NAMI Tennessee, we could never have recruited great sponsorships or developed the strategy that has been so successful.

Our attention now turns to the House. The study bill (HB 2162) is currently in the Study Sobcommittee of the House Finance, Ways and Means committee. It is scheduled to be heard on Wednesday morning of next week. It should then progress through the full committee and then head to the floor! We only have a few weeks left in session, but we are closing in on our legislative goals for the year!

You can take action today by calling (615.741.3830) or emailing Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry (who chairs the Study Sobcommittee) and asking her to move House Bill 2162 through her subcommittee on Wednesday!


Botched Executions

Today, in Ohio, the execution of Christopher Newton took over an hour and a half. He was pricked with needles in both arms over 10 times during the ordeal. The Governor of Ohio refused to step in at any point during this horrendous event.

And remember, the "improved and revised" execution protocols that Tennessee is currently using are nearly identical to those used by Ohio (which has now botched two recent executions) and Florida.

You can read more from the NCADP and the ACLU.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


No Time Like the Present

In recent history, Tennessee has been one of the only Southern states which has not regularly carried out executions. Since 1960, Tennessee has executed three people, all since 2000. And, though the American Bar Association's report on Tennessee's death penalty released in April strongly recommended a moratorium on executions in the state, the Governor chose to lift the 90 day moratorium and move forward with the execution of Philip Workman. And, though the Tennessee legislature continues to move legislation creating a study commission to conduct a full and complete study of Tennessee's death penalty system, the state has scheduled four more executions dates.

Daryl Holton is currently scheduled to be executed on September 12, 2007. E.J. Harbison is scheduled to die on September 26th. Michael Boyd has an execution date of Oct. 24th, and Pervis Payne's date is Dec. 12th. As support for the death penalty nationwide is at an all time low, as fewer and fewer people are being sentenced to die, as states like New Jersey are moving toward the abolition of the death penalty, Tennessee revs up its execution machine.

And yet, when (not if) a study commission is in place, TCASK will be in its best position ever to demonstrate how truly broken this system is and will continue to mount public pressure to halt all executions until, at the least, the study commission can do its work. There is much work to do and many obstacles to face, but we are up for the challenge if we work together. TCASK is already planning a number of outreach and trainings initiatives for the summer to prepare our supporters for the work ahead. Stay tuned for more information about these opportunities.

Monday, May 21, 2007


It Doesn't Make Cents (or Dollars)!

Yesterday's Bristol Herald Courier carried an interesting article on the costs of capital punishment in Tennessee. While citing the study done by the comptroller several years ago, which stated (with huge holes in its research) that each capital trial cost $46,000, the article points out that a current capital trial going on in Bristol has already cost over $85,000. And that isn't even the total cost! Nor does it include the coming costs of the post-conviction appeals. The point is that the death penalty system costs us, as tax-payers, tons of money! The extra costs include:
  • Two defense counsel required for capital cases
  • Far greater investigation and expert testimony costs
  • Far more court time (a two-phased trial)
  • Greater costs for juries
  • Vastly more motions by both sides
  • Many more hours in preparation by the D.A.'s office

When we put all of this together, and include (as we should) the costs of all the trials where the death penalty is sought and not, in the end, received, we find that hundreds of millions, perhaps a billion dollars have been spent here in Tennessee on a system that has executed only 3 people in 47 years! Think of what all that money could have done for education, mental health care, or victims' services.

Friday, May 18, 2007


He Won't Let Paul House Be Forgotten

During the past several weeks, with the end of the Governor's moratorium, the tragic execution of Philip Workman, and the increasing movement of death penalty study legislation, we haven't heard the name Paul House in the media or the general public debate on the death penalty recently. And we should, because, regardless of your opinion on capital punishment, no one should be in favor of executing an innocent man.

Well, Representative Mike Turner is having none of it! He's already written to the Governor asking him to do the right thing and pardon Paul House, but now he will be circulating a letter among his colleagues asking them to sign on to also call on the Governor to get an innocent man home to his mother! And you can help! Call or write to your rep this weekend and ask them to sign on to Rep. Turner's letter! And of course let the TCASK office know how they respond.

And anyone in Mike Turner's district, thank him for his principled and brave fight to get an innocent man off death row and home to his mother!

Thursday, May 17, 2007


One Last Trial for Philip Workman's Family

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell ruled that an autopsy could be performed on Philip Workman's body, despite the fact that such a procedure would violate Workman's beliefs as a Seventh Day Adventist. Judge Campbell ruled that, "“While Mr. Workman’s religious beliefs are sincere and worthy of consideration, they do not outweigh the medical examiner’s interest in confirming that the manner of death complied with the requirements of the law.” Read the judge's entire ruling here.

Of course this means that Philip Workman's family will have to endure one more attack on their loved one, having already seen his last wish denied, celebrations in Memphis at his death, and the horror of having their loved one executed.

I can appreciate the need to know whether or not the execution process is humane, but a better way to ensure this would have been to actually develop an execution protocol that doesn't mirror the protocols that have already produced botched executions in other states. And we should point out that, with no medical personnel involved, even if Workman's execution was carried out relatively "humanely" that does not ensure that another execution would be. Why not take a serious look at the very real problems with the three drug cocktail instead of simply making a few cosmetic changes and leaving it up to chance?

Also, the Nashville Scene has a terrific article of Philip Workman this week. Check it out.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Big Steps on Capitol Hill!

Today the House Judiciary Committee, in its last meeting of the year, rolled House Bill 1099, which would have expanded the use of Tennessee's death penalty, meaning the bill will not move again until next year, if at all! Only an hour later, the Senate Delayed Bills committee passed Senator Doug Jackson's bill creating a broad study commission to examine the Tennessee death penalty system! The Delayed Bills Committee holds all study commission bills until the end of session to ensure that two or three commissions aren't created to study the same thing.

But the upshot of this passage is that, since the bill was held until late in session and has now been approved by the leadership of both parties (the committee is made up of the Lt. Governor, Majority Leader, and Minority Leader) the bill bypasses the other committees and will proceed directly to the Senate floor! This means that the Senate is only one vote away from approving legislation to finally take a full and complete look at the fairness and accuracy of death penalty system. In the House, the bill (number 2162) is headed for the Finance, Ways and Means committee. It's time we talk about the fact that the death penalty is reserved almost exclusively for the poor and that it targets people of color and the mentally ill in a disproportionate and unjust manner!

So it's time to make a phone call to your Senator and tell them to support Senate Bill 1911 to do a full study of the entire death penalty system.

Monday, May 14, 2007


50 Years and Counting

Today this post from the United Methodist Church was forwarded to me by a minister from Bristol, TN. In it, Methodist Bishop tells her story of finally getting to visit a death row inmate in California after nearly a year of trying to get cleared to visit death row. The UMC in 2006 marked the 50th anniversary of its resolution in opposition to capital punishment. In the wake of the travesty that was the Philip workman execution, it's nice to remember that there are so many courageous people around the country that stand with us in this fight.

Read the post here.

Friday, May 11, 2007


Yet Another Death Row Exoneree

Today Curtis McCarty, who has spent more than 21 years in prison in Oklahoma, 16 of them on death row, was exonerated due to the work of the Innocence Project! Mr McCarty is the 201st prisoner freed in America due to DNA evidence and the 124th death row exoneree in the modern era! And of course that doesn't even include inmates like Paul House, still waiting for his day in court! Read more here.
We'll have more details as they become available, but you can also check out the NCADP, Death Penalty Information Center, or the Innocence Project for more details.

Meanwhile, here in Tennessee, yours truly will be appearing on Liberadio on WGNS 880 tomorrow afternoon for a complete hour starting at 2:00pm tomorrow. It's a call in show and is scheduled to be an in depth discussion about the death penalty. So if you're around tomorrow, give a listen or even call in and let us know what you're thinking. You can even listen online!


Good News from the Northeast!

While we in Tennessee are reeling from the sad events of the last few days, it's important to remember that, across the country, the tide continues to turn against the death penalty. Last year, New Jersey successfully passed legislation to call a moratorium on executions and conduct a thorough study of the death penalty. The study commission eventually came back with a recommendation to abolish New Jersey's death penalty and replace it with life without parole. Yesterday, the Judiciary Committee of the New Jersey Senate voted overwhelmingly to do just that! This is a major step in the fight to end NJ's death penalty.

The NCADP Blog has the story here.

Now, certainly NJ is not Tennessee. They have only 10 people on death row and have not carried out an execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1982. However, it is still inspiring to see more and more public officials come to realize that the death penalty is absolutely unneccessary. Kudos to New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty!

Thursday, May 10, 2007


An Overwhelming Response

For his last meal on earth, Philip Workman requested that a vegetable pizza be delivered to Nashville's homeless. The Department of Corrections refused saying they were too focused on the execution procedures. But hundreds of normal people have stepped in and hundreds of pizzas were served last night to Nashville's homeless community in Philip Workman's name. The Tennessean had good coverage of the story and News Channel 5 did a wonderful piece (you can see the video here).

I find myself needing to comment on how much this story functions as an allegory for the death penalty in general. The state is so focused on carrying out an execution that it can't feed one hungry person. Check out the state troopers in the picture below taken at the vigil for Workman last night. And this isn't even all of them. The state can place all of these troopers there, but couldn't have one intern take a pizza down town? What do you think had a more positive impact on Tennessee, Philip Workman being killed, or the hundreds of homeless and hungry individuals who were fed last night? Think of all the homeless people that could have been fed with the more than $10,000 that it took to carry out Workman's execution last night. Think of how many homeless people could have been provided with housing, or the children that could have received better education, with the hundreds of thousands of dollars, probably millions of dollars, spent on the entire process of trying to kill Philip Workman? We need to see where our hearts (and wallets) are as a society, and realize that all the effort that the state puts in to exact vengeance is effort being taken away from caring for the people among us who need to be cared for.

Last night, the regular citizens of Tennessee stepped up and picked up where the state dropped the ball. And they did it in Philip Workman's name. That is a beautiful story. Thank you to everyone who found a sign of hope coming out of a death.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


"Hope Is the Thing with Feathers"

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all...
poem by Emily Dickinson

Last night, as those of us keeping vigil in a field beyond the prison stood in shivering silence, candles burning, waiting for word that the state had murdered Philip Workman, I walked alone with my dripping candle toward the edge of the field nearest to the prison. As I approached the metal fence which cordoned us off, I noticed a sound that, until we became silent, was previously inaudible or perhaps simply unnoticed. I heard the song of one lone bird. Perhaps she was confused by all the glaring lights illuminating the prison and imagined that day was dawning, I don't know. But, she just kept singing.

Her singing was almost frantic at times. I think she was a mockingbird as I noted that the patterns continued to change but her song was constant..verse after verse after verse. On and on, she sang, as if her life or someone's depended on it. I found myself praying that somehow Philip could hear her singing--the last music to fall on his ears this side of eternity.

Perhaps her song was a dirge of sorts, sung for a dying man. Perhaps it was a song of lament for us, as citizens of Tennessee, in whose name a man was put to death with clear evidence that he did not commit a capital crime. Perhaps, it was a song of hope, that thing with feathers, which will not be stilled though despair would surely try to shut it up. Maybe her song was all of these things.

I will not soon forget the song of that little bird. And though my heart aches, though my body and spirit are weary, I hear her song, and I know that this is not the end of the story...


Who Cares About Redemption

Reading this article this morning, I was struck again by the death penalty's absolute rejection of the idea of redemption. By executing someone, we decide that nothing else they can ever do can matter. Nothing matters, "they" are "worthless" we're told.

We actually brought this up at the vigil last night as well, but what has been inspiring is that three different groups of people have already set plans to deliver pizza to Nashville's homeless today in Philip Workman's name. The state may not believe that anything good can come from a "convicted murderer" and it may even refuse to let that person make a last gesture of kindness to the world, but we don't believe that, and so thank you to all of you who refuse to let people be drawn in black and white. Your actions to honor life are an inspiration.


Philip Workman Executed in Spite of Serious Doubt

At 1:38 am, Philip Workman was pronounced dead at Riverbend Correctional Facility in Nashville Tennessee. Nearly 100 vigilers stood silently with lighted candles awaiting the news for long minutes as there was no word from the prison until 1:45 - a full three quarters of an hour after the execution proceedings commenced. Below is TCASK's statement in response to the execution:

Workman’s Execution Proves Tennessee’s Death Penalty is Broken

Nashville: When the state of Tennessee executed Philip Workman at 1:00am this morning, it did more than kill a man; it destroyed any argument that Tennessee’s death penalty system can possibly be trusted to hand down fair and equitable justice. In the end, the legal wrangling came down to the question of whether or not the Sixth Circuit Court had the authority to overturn a temporary restraining order put in place by a Federal District Court judge. The federal courts never actually considered evidence suggesting that Workman was factually innocent of the murder of Memphis Police Officer Ronald Oliver.

Workman was convicted of the 1981 shooting of Lt. Oliver during a robbery of a Wendy’s restaurant. While Workman has never denied the robbery, evidence brought to light after his initial conviction strongly indicates he did not fire the shot which killed Lt. Oliver. According to an opinion by Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Drowota, if Workman did not fire the shot which killed Lt. Oliver, than he was not guilty of capital murder.

Only one witness, Harold Davis, claimed to have actually seen Workman shoot Lt. Oliver. But since the initial trial, Davis, who had a history of calling in false tips to police in the hopes of a reward, has confessed that he perjured himself and actually was not present at the crime scene. He has passed a polygraph examination verifying this testimony. Worse yet, the only expert forensics testimony on the record, that of Dr. Cecil Wecht, concludes that “to a degree of medical certainty” the bullet that killed Ronald Oliver could not have come from Workman’s gun, a .45 caliber pistol. Wecht’s testimony is based both on the size of the exit wound and on the fact that the bullet exited the body at all. Both are inconsistent with the type of gun and ammunition that Workman was using. This suggests that Oliver was killed by friendly fire. Five of the jurors from Workman’s trial, the original prosecuting attorney, and Lt. Oliver’s daughter have all called for clemency for Workman.

All this evidence should be disturbing to anyone concerned with fairness and justice, regardless of their position on the death penalty. But what should be even more disturbing is the fact that Workman went to his death without a substantive consideration of these facts. Tennesseans deserve to know that their state is taking every necessary precaution to guarantee that it does not take life unjustly. How can we afford to believe this anymore when we execute a man without considering the strong evidence that he did not commit the crime for which he was executed.

Proponents of the death penalty continually maintain that it represents justice. But armed robbery is not a capital offense. Across the country more than 120 people have been exonerated from the death rows of 25 states. Paul House currently sits on Tennessee’s death row for a crime that the United State Supreme Court ruled that no reasonable juror would find him guilty of if presented with all the evidence. And recent investigation has suggested that several innocent men have been executed. With the execution of Philip Workman, Tennessee destroyed ant reasonable argument that its death penalty is administered fairly. It is far past time that we stop all executions until we can guarantee that fairness, equity, and true justice prevail.

Reverend Stacy Rector, Executive Director

Alex Wiesendanger, Associate Director

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


6th Circuit Ignores Expert Opinion and Common Decency

The U.S. 6th Circuit has refused Workman's petition for an en banc review of the three judge panel's decision to overturn the temporary restraining order put in place by U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell in order to hold a hearing on Tennessee's lethal injection procedure. The 6th Circuit did not offer any reason for its rejection, and chose to ignore the only expert medical testimony available (see previous post) - I guess the judges in the majority have M.D.s as well as J.D.s.

Workman's next likely appeal will be to the U.S. Supreme Court for review of his claims regarding the lethal injection procedures.


The Highest Court in the Land

Since the 6th Circuit en banc has refused to consider the crucial evidence proving that Philip Workman is not guilty of the murder of Lt. Ronald Oliver, Workman's attorneys have now applied for a stay of execution to the United States Supreme Court. Workman's appeal focuses on a Rule 60 (b) motion (a complicated rule regarding whetehr an inmate can make a second habeas corpus plea to federal courts, in this case because new evidence, like Harold Davis' recantation came to light).

You can read the motion here.

With Workman now just under 9 hours away from execution, let's take just a minute to consider the evidence that the 6th Circuit apparently didn't think was worthy of review.

Philip Workman was convicted of the 1981 murder of Lt. Ronald Oliver based on testimony that shots were fired, only he and Lt. Oliver were shooting, and the testimony of Harold Davis who claimed that he saw Workman shoot Oliver. Since that time, eyewitnesses have testified that the other officers were firing their guns, and there has been evidence that police witnesses perjured themselves since two witnesses each claimed that they separately found the same bullet (that supposedly killed Lt. Oliver. But more strikingly:

  • Harold Davis has admitted that he perjured himself in his initial testimony, and has passed a lie detector test verifying this claim.

  • The only medical testimony on the record, that of Dr. Cecil Wecht, states that "to a degree of medical certainty" the bullet that killed Lt. Oliver could not have come from Workman's gun.

  • Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Drowota has stated that if Workman did not shoot Lt. Oliver, he is not guilty of a capital crime

  • Five jurors from Workman's trial have signed affidavits stating that, had they known that Davis was lying and that the deadly bullet did not come from Workman's gun, they would never have sentenced him to death (it takes only one hold out on a jury to prevent a death sentence).

  • The original prosecutor and Lt. Oliver's daughter have called on the Governor to grant clemency to Philip Workman.

Now, I admit, I've never been to law school, but am I crazy or is this evidence not, at the very least, worth a hearing!?


What's the Court Pondering Now?

The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals is currently considering whether or not to overturn a panel decision to reinstate Philip Workman's execution and ignore the serious risk posed by Tennessee's recently revised lethal injection procedures. Our regular readers will remember that these procedures were developed by the department of Corrections, behind closed doors, and it is unclear what, if any, medical experts were consulted during their development. Well, finally a trained doctor of anesthesiology has examined Tennessee's lethal injection protocols (the ones released less than a week ago that apparently Philip Workman is challenging too late). Dr. Mark Heath is a professor at Columbia University and has testified as an expert witness in a number of states regarding lethal injection. He has also done recent extensive study of the effects of lethal injection upon inmates. In other words, he's an expert.

So check out the report Dr. Heath submitted on Tennessee's new "constitutional" execution procedures.

Dr. Heath reports that there are serious problems throughout the process, from the drug doses (it looks like Tennessee has a typo in its protocols again), to the choice of method. Dr. Heath explains clearly that lethal injection can be done humanely, but that Tennessee's three drug cocktail, and the complete lack of medical oversight, proper training of personnel, or clear directions, do not come close to meeting this standard.

Now this affidavit was presented in the district court and resulted in the temporary restraining order which a 6th Circuit panel overturned yesterday. The state has not produced any contradicting expert testimony, and yet, the panel has somehow completely ignored the opinion of one of the foremost experts in the field!

Perhaps the full 6th Circuit can act with a little more fairness.


A Conscience for Our Times

Even as we feel the travesty of justice currently being carried out in Cincinnati by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, today's Tennessean carries a call to all of us from the pioneer of the civil rights movement, Reverend James Lawson. Lawson writes:

Unfortunately for Philip Workman, they have been framing him since the night of a police officer's death almost 25 years ago. They have tried to make a restaurant robber into a murderer so he can be the fall guy for the fatal error of the Memphis police.

So to paraphrase Jesus, as they prepare Workman for the gurney:

"Father, forgive them, for they know exactly what they're doing."
* * *
How can we, as a society, claim to honor leaders like Reverend Lawson, or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr who said, "I do not believe that God approves of the death penalty for any crime," and then ignore their voices when the key moral issues of our times surface?

Read Lawson's entire letter here.


6th Circuit Denies Workman Appeal

With a cursory note (less than one page!) the 6th Circuit has denied an en banc hearing for Philip Workman regardless of the clear and convincing case presented by his attorneys. In fact, in their response, the 6th Circuit did not even give a reason for refusing to look at crucial evidence as a man faces his death! They merely said that less than a majority of the sitting judges present favored the motion! As far as I can tell this response was to the appeal of Workman's 60(b) motion, requesting that the courts examine the forensics evidence pointing to his innocence, and we are still awaiting a reply from the 6th Circuit regarding his lethal injection claims. The next step would be to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice indeed!


Workman Appeals Panel Decision and Requests a Stay

Attorneys for Philip Workman have filed an appeal of the 6th Circuit panel's decision to overturn the temporary restraining order placed on the state by U.S. District Court Judge Todd Campbell. In the brief, Workman's attorneys, in my non-legal mind, eviscerate the majority opinion and the state's claims with clear and concise logic. The basic points are:
  1. A Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) is not appealable unless there will be immediate and irreparable harm caused by its remaining in place; executing Philip Workman less than two weeks later than originally planned certainly does not qualify
  2. There is clear and provocative scientific evidence that the lethal injection procedures now being utilized by Tennessee can cause exceptional pain and constitute torture to an executed inmate.
  3. Philip Workman cannot possibly have filed his petition late when he challenged the new protocols within 2 days of their release!

You can read the entire brief here and you can also read the motion filed by Workman's attorneys for a stay of execution.


Workman Back on Death Watch Despite Evidence of Innocence

For the fourth time, Philip Workman finds himself on death watch this morning, despite evidence that he did not shoot Memphis Police Lieutenant Ronald Oliver. Yesterday afternoon, a three judge panel on the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a ten day restraining order put in place by U.S. District Court judge Todd Campbell to allow for a hearing on Tennessee's "new" lethal injection procedures. Workman had maintained that the three drug protocol (which utilizes a chemical banned for use in euthanizing animals) could constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Given the horrendous and torturous botched executions seen in other states using nearly identical protocols, Workman's claim would seem to have merit, but the panel disagreed and overturned the restraining order, clearing the way for Workman to be executed in just over 28 hours. The majority opinion claimed that Workman might simply be trying to delay his execution and should have brought these concerns up sooner. All this despite the fact that the state only released the new protocol a week ago! Talk about trying to have it both ways!

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Guy Cole Jr. makes a number of terrific points, the most shocking of which, to me, is that a temporary restraining order (like the one that was in place here) is by law not appealable. It is designed merely to maintain the status quo for a very short time (no more than 10 days) to allow a court to examine an issue and decide if an injunction (which would be appealable) is needed. Apparently, none of this made any difference to the two judges in the majority. Moreover, the Judge Cole points out that there can be no "irreparable harm" caused to the state by temporarily delaying the execution of Phillip Workman, and such harm certainly could not overcome Workman's eight amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Other courts across the country have recognized that the three drug cocktail (administered by unqualified prison personnel) can result in extreme pain and suffering and Judge Cole calls on the 6th Circuit to do the same.

This morning, Philip Workman will be appealing his Rule 60(b) motion (more on this later) as well as the ruling of the panel on lethal injection, to an en banc hearing of the entire 6th Circuit, rather than just a three judge panel. TCASK will continue to keep abreast of these developments and whatever the outcome, the latest news will be immediately posted here throughout the day. If the situation does not change, if our state does not see the light, if Philip Workman is still scheduled for execution this evening, we will gather at 7:30 at Holy Name Catholic Church (521 Woodland) for a prayer service for Philip Workman and all victims of violence and then proceed to Riverbend Correctional Facility to hold a candlelight vigil beginning at 9:00 pm.

So take time today for two things:

1) Call (615.741.2001) or Email Governor Bredesen and tell him: Philip Workman did not fire the shot that killed Lt. Oliver. He should not be executed for armed robbery!

2) Join us to bear witness against an immoral and unjust execution tonight!

Monday, May 07, 2007


More Great Media Work

Once again, Tennessean columnist Dwight Lewis has issued a clear, thoughtful, and powerful call to Governor Bredesen to not support a broken death penalty system. I meant to get this piece up earlier, but here it is for your reading pleasure. I hope that many people of good faith respond to this call.

And Shane Truett has a moving piece responding to Verna Wyatt's factually inaccurate piece in The Tennessean talking about the problems in the death penalty system and his own belief, as a murder victim's brother, that the death penalty does not bring closure to families that lose a loved one.


Workman's Life Still Hangs in the Balance

At this moment, a temporary restraining order is in place, preventing the state of Tennessee from executing Philip Workman until May 14th, when a hearing regarding Workman's challenge to Tennessee's "new and cleaned up" execution protocols has been scheduled. As the day progresses, we hope to be able to hear whether or not the state will challenge this order either in district court or appeal it to the U.S. 6th Circuit. What is for certain is that there is no guarantee that an execution will not occur Wednesday morning at 1:00 am.

At the same time, the United States 6th Circuit court panel has rejected Workman's request for relief based on the fact that he was convicted on perjured testimony and faulty ballistics evidence! I'm not going to go into all the issues again here (you can see previous posts or the TCASK case summary) but you have to question any system where the fact that the key prosecution witness, by his own admission, lied about what he saw and where medical evidence demonstrates that the bullet that killed Lt. Oliver did not come from Workman's gun do not count as reasonable grounds to challenge a death sentence! Over and over again, we see that procedure, not truth or real justice, is the issue in the death penalty!

Still, resistance to the Workman execution continues across the state. In Memphis last night a prayer service was held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The Memphis TCASK Chapter will gather there again this evening and tomorrow. In Jackson and Knoxville, prayer vigils are scheduled for tomorrow night. In Nashville tonight, at 5:00 there will be a public event at the Belcourt Theater to deconstruct the "new" execution protocols! And this weekend, and again tonight, Nashvillians gathered to hold signs and raise awareness and opposition to an unjust planned execution. So stay tuned and stay active! Because we are not going to let the state perpetrate such an injustice unopposed!

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Philip Workman Receives Temporary Reprieve

Yesterday evening Philip Workman received a temporary reprieve from U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell. Campbell scheduled a hearing on the question of the constitutionality of the lethal injection protocol. Believe it or not, Campbell thought that it might be unfair to give attorneys less than a week to review new execution protocols.

We do not know yet if this stay will hold, so all plans, including sign holdings today and Monday, are still on.

The Tennessean has the full story here.

Friday, May 04, 2007


National Coverage of Philip Workman Case

Check out CNN and read about Philip Workman's case on the front page of the CNN web site. National attention is now focused on Tennessee as our state prepares to execute a man who was convicted and sentenced based on perjured testimony and faulty ballistics evidence. Never mind that the May 9th execution date marks Workman's 6th execution date and will be his fourth trip to death watch. Workman already suffers from post traumatic stress disorder from his prior death watch experiences. Someone remind me again how such treatment is not "cruel and unusual?"

TCASK will have a sign holding event today at 4:00 p.m. at the TCASK office, 508 Main Street, Nashville. Sign holding is one more way to get the word out to Tennesseans that a grave injustice is soon to be carried out in our name if the Governor or the courts don't intervene. If you can't make the sign holding event, call the Governor at 741-2001 and ask that he grant clemency to Philip Workman.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


National Day of Prayer

Reading the news this morning, I discovered that since 1988 the first Thursday in May has been designated as the National Day of Prayer. Festivities will be occurring in downtown Nashville today to mark the occasion. I am grateful that we live in a nation where people are free to assemble and to pray publicly. For people of faith, prayer is an essential part of expressing our interconnectedness to God as well as to those for whom we pray.

However, I must admit that we often find it easier to pray for one another with our words than to act on behalf of one another with our lives. Even so, both prayer and action are important to lives of faith; and lately, I have been engaged in a great deal of both.

I pray for the Governor, even in my grief and anger over his decision not to extend the moratorium, because I believe that it is my call as a Christian to pray for him and to pray for his intervention in the Philip Workman case. I pray for the family and friends of Lt. Ronald Oliver who continue to suffer as the death penalty system drags up their pain each and every time an execution date is set. I pray for Philip Workman, his family, and friends, who for the sixth time, endure the agony, the torture, of facing another execution date, another death watch, another last meal. I pray for all those sitting on death row in Tennessee who, in a few days, will hear the correctional officers come to take Philip from his cell again for what may be the last time. I pray for all those participating in the execution who work for the Department of Corrections, who do the dirty job on our behalf. I pray all of us, citizens of Tennessee, who participate in the murder of another human being every time there is an execution.

During this National Day of Prayer celebration going on downtown today, I wonder if anyone will pray for Philip Workman, for the Olivers, for our society which seems to put much more faith in violence than in God and in Jesus' way of nonviolence. I hope that we will all keep praying and acting in ways that demonstrate the powers of love, mercy, and forgiveness that are central to our faith, even as we face the difficult days ahead in Tennessee. And so, I will keep praying and acting for an end to the death penalty in Tennessee. I hope you will do the same.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Live Nun Sleeping!

TCASK is so grateful to Belmont University, particularly to Dr. Todd Lake, for bringing Sister Helen Prejean to Nashville for a presentation at Belmont on Monday. She received a standing ovation from those in attendance after sharing her story and reflecting upon the power of the arts to move people to new places and new understandings regarding difficult issues such as the death penalty. Belmont was quite gracious in sharing Sister Helen with TCASK as she participated in our press conference joining clergy from across the state to urge the Governor to extend the moratorium.

After a lunch in her honor at Belmont, Alex and I whisked Sister Helen away to prepare for our press conference at 3:30. As we were racing around the office attending to last minute details, Sister Helen got a little shut eye on our donated office sofa. We decided to capture the moment by taking her picture (of course, we asked first!) It is not everyday that Sister Helen takes a nap in one's office.

We are deeply grateful to Sister Helen for her witness to the love and mercy of God through her tireless efforts to abolish the death penalty in this country. Sister, you can crash on our sofa anytime!


House Judiciary Committee Approves Full Study of Death Penalty

Read the TCASK Press Release Below:

Study Bill Moves as Governor Allows Moratorium to Expire

Nashville: The House Judiciary Committee today unanimously approved legislation, introduced by Representative Rob Briley (D- Nashville) and Senator Doug Jackson (D-Dickson) and co-sponsored by members of both parties, to create a commission to conduct a thorough study of the state’s death penalty system. The commission would include 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 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 an assessment released last week by the American Bar Association, which has no position on the death penalty, the Tennessee capital punishment system suffers from serious flaws. Tennessee does not have protocols mandating the preservation of DNA evidence throughout a death row inmate’s incarceration. Moreover, inmates are not provided with proper avenues to address claims of factual innocence, leading to the serious and deadly risk that Tennessee could execute an innocent person. Moreover, the assessment found, Tennessee’s death penalty system continues to be applied unfairly along racial, economic, and geographic lines, and people with severe mental illness continue to face death sentences.

“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 legislation passed on the same day as Governor Phil Bredesen allowed his 90-day moratorium on executions, put in place to study Tennessee’s execution protocols, to expire. The Governor ignored the findings of the ABA which called for a continuation of the current moratorium and a complete study of the death penalty, as well as a letter from nearly 200 faith leaders from across Tennessee calling on him to act to ensure that fairness and equity prevail in Tennessee’s death penalty system. A poll conducted by the Global Strategies group found that 66% of Tennesseans would have approved of an extension of the moratorium.

“It is disappointing that the Governor is allowing executions to resume even after he’s heard from legal experts, faith leaders, and the people of Tennessee that we should act to fix a broken system,” said Rector. “But it is encouraging that the General Assembly is taking steps to address the serious flaws in Tennessee’s capital punishment system.”

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


What's It Gonna Take?

Recent Events:
  • The American Bar Association releases a report urging the Governor to extend the moratorium in Tennessee because of all the problems with the death penalty;
  • The Tennessee legislature is moving legislation with bipartisan support to create a study commission to examine all the problems with Tennessee's death penalty;
  • Almost 200 faith leaders from across the state write a letter imploring the Governor to extend the moratorium;
  • Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, comes to Tennessee and asks that the Governor extend the moratorium, hand delivering the clergy letter, along with me, to the Governor's office;
  • Over a thousand citizens call, write letters, and email the Governor asking for the extension;
  • The ABA report's polls cite 66% of Tennesseans support the extension; and
  • The new execution protocols are released and continue to use the same drug cocktail which has proved unreliable, if not torturous, in carrying out "humane" executions.

And yet...

What are the headlines of today's Tennessean? "Tennessee will lift ban on executions."

What more does Governor Bredesen need to understand how broken the system is? What will it take? Regardless of his support of the death penalty, THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN, GOVERNOR.