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Friday, June 29, 2007


NAMI Recognizes the Importance of the Panetti Decision

Read NAMI Tennessee's press release below:

Supreme Court Decision:
Mental Illness & Death Penalty

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) praises yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court blocking the execution of a Texas man who suffers from severe mental illness.

In Panetti v. Quarterman, the court held that an individual’s understanding of the reasons why he or she is to be executed must be considered in determining whether application of the death penalty is constitutional—rather than merely understanding the link between execution and death.

“For once, law has caught up with medical science,” said NAMI Director of Policy and Legal Affairs Ronald S. Honberg. “The circumstances of this case are tragic and no one minimizes the gravity of the crime or the suffering of the victims. However, execution of someone who is profoundly ill would only compound the original tragedy and represent a profound injustice for us all.”

“Severe delusions mean severe illness. Rational understanding and judgment are severely compromised. Application of the death penalty becomes meaningless.”

NAMI previously filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in the case with the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association.

To view the Supreme Court decision: To view the NAMI amicus brief:

Despite a long history of schizophrenia, Scott Panetti was allowed to represent himself at his trial on charges of murdering his parents-in-law 15 years ago. He frequently spoke irrationally and issued subpoenas to John F. Kennedy, Jesus Christ, and Pope John Paul II before being sentenced to death.

Continuing to experience delusions and other symptoms of severe mental illness throughout incarceration on death row, Panetti believed his planned execution was part of an evil conspiracy between Texas and demonic forces to stop him from preaching the gospel.

Locally, NAMI hopes the Tennessee Legislatures recent decision to study the death penalty in Tennessee (SB 1911 Jackson/HB 2162 Briley) will allow us to consider factors of a number of Tennessee death row inmates that suffer from severe mental illness.

“Greg Thompson, a Tennessee inmate currently on a stay of execution to determine his competency to be executed, believes he is a Klingon from Star Trek who has won several Grammy awards. He feels he is immune to electrocution because he can touch the TV and survive the shock. He believes he will go to Hawaii after his execution,” reports Stacy Rector, Executive Director of Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing (TCASK).

Sita Diehl, Executive Director of NAMI Tennessee, says, “Panetti v. Quarterman must give us pause to examine how the death penalty affects inmates with mental illness in Tennessee.”
# # #

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Speaking of Crazy: Fred Thompson Weighs In

So it turns out Fred Thompson actually is a lawyer (he doesn't just play one on TV), but apparently that doesn't mean that he has any real understanding of the machinations of the nation's capital punishment system. In a recent podcast, Thompson declares that Americans usually get things right, and sites the few recent studies that purport to find that the death penalty deters murder (apparently anywhere from 3 to 18 murders per execution - how many? can a range that wide really mean anything? I guess that doesn't matter).

Thompson rather mockingly refers to the "self-proclaimed smart kids" who have always said that the death penalty doesn't deter murder and then says that "most studies" now find that the death penalty does protect innocent lives. Now the simple facts are that only a few studies have claimed to demonstrate any such thing, and close review and scrutiny in the academic community have debunked those few (check out a terrific summation of this work here). Also, I'd like to point out that while apparently in Thompson's view academics deserve only to be mocked when they are arguing against capital punishment, their findings seem to deserve the greatest weight when they support the state taking life.

Now, I am not an academic. I have a plain old bachelor's degree, and that's probably all I'll ever get. I'll certainly never go to law school or be an assistant U.S. Attorney, but I've got eyes and common sense, so instead of throwing bunches of independent variables into complex equations that no one who isn't an academic can understand (which is what the Emory econometric studies that Thompson so reverently refers to do) let's look at basic common sense.

If the death penalty deterred crime, there would be no murders in Texas! Texas has executed nearly 400 people in the past 25 years, and it does it quickly. Yet Texas's murder rate remains high, while that of New York (which has not carried out an execution in the modern era) remains low. In fact, 11 of the 13 states that do not have the death penalty on the books have murder rates below the national average. When the death penalty was reinstated in 1972, murder rates were falling, but even as we ramped back up the machinery of death, in the 1980s and 1990s, the murder rate continued to increase. State by state studies similarly show that there is no drop in the murder rate after a state returns to executions, nor is there an increase after a state ends its use of the death penalty.

In other words, the common sense facts don't support Thompson's assertions. In this case, the "self-proclaimed smart kids" are free market economists who design theoretical models to show that the death penalty deters crime, when any sensible person, looking at the facts in front of their eyes knows that this is not true. In fact, when certain variables are adjusted and accounted for in one of these studies, the new equation shows that an execution causes 3 more murders!

We need to have a serious debate about the death penalty in America, but even the majority of Americans don't believe that the death penalty deters other murderers. As a potential presidential candidate, Fred Thompson owes us a deeper and more honest analysis.


Crazy Enough?

This morning the U. S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Scott Panetti, a severely mentally ill man set for execution in Texas. Panetti defended himself in his second trial dressed in a purple cowboy outfit and calling himself the Ringo Kid. He attempted to subpoena Jesus, the Pope, and John F. Kennedy for his defense. He believes that the state is trying to execute him to stop him from preaching the Gospel. Before his crime, he had been hospitalized more than a dozen times for his mental illness. You can learn more about Panetti's case here.

The Ford v. Wainwright decision has set the standard for mental competence to be executed, put briefly, an inmate must know that he is going to be executed and must know why. This is obviously an extremely vague and narrow definition, which is long overdue for review. In a 5-4 ruling the Supreme Court has finally done just that!

We don't have the details of the ruling yet, or how it might effect the huge number of death row inmates around the country and in Tennessee who suffer from severe mental illness. Check back with us later in the day for updates!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


New Study Underscores the Unfairness of TN Legal System

This morning, the Tennessee Justice Project released a new report by The Spangenberg Group detailing between funds made available to the defense and prosecution of indigent criminal cases. The report finds that the prosecution receives over $130 million per year, while the defense receives only $56.4 million - a more than 2 to 1 ratio. To make matters worse, when you take into account the in-kind support offered to the prosecution, by local, county, state, and federal support and law enforcement, the disparity is more than 4 to 1 in favor of the prosecution!

Our criminal justice system is set up on the principle that everyone is entitled to a fair trial with an adequate defense? How can we possibly claim to live up to this principle when the deck is stacked against the defense to such a serious extent?

And remember, nearly every one of Tennessee's death row inmates are indigent. In fact the best predictor of whether or not someone accused of a capital crime will get the death penalty is not the facts of their crime, but whether or not they can afford a lawyer! This study demonstrates why this is true. The fact that such an imbalanced system can be allowed to make the ultimate decisions regarding who lives and who dies is absolutely unthinkable!

The report's release has received state wide media attention. The City Paper here in Nashville has the story here, and the Knoxville News Sentinel carried it as well, quoting the Knox County public defender as saying that his office is so overworked that the lawyers in the office have only an average of 72 minutes per case!

You can read the full study here, and check out the Justice Project's summary report here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


A Tale of Two Cities, and Two Organizing Strategies

'Twas the best of times, 'twas the . . . different best of times? OK, I think that Dickens may have failed me there. Yesterday evening, Isaac and I travelled to McKenzie and then Jackson to hold strategy sessions with groups of TCASK activists in each city to plan local campaigns for municipal moratorium resolutions. Now granted, Nashville to McKenzie to Jackson to Nashville in one night is quite a trip (fortunately, I pulled seniority and Isaac did most of the driving) but it was well worth it. In both cities we met with engaged, energized, and willing folks ready to take action to engage their communities. Both meetings were great, but our groups offered different models for our organizing.

In McKenzie, our group was based mostly at Bethel College, so mostly students and professors with lots of energy ready to wake up a small, fairly rural town. So we organize to those strengths. This group is ready to form a team to canvass local businesses for moratorium resolutions, and visit local pastors to ask them to support a moratorium effort. On top of that, they're looking to build on a new connection between the college and the local paper to gain publicity for their efforts! On the right you can see Bethel Activist Allen McQueen with Juan Melendez at last year's student conference!

In Jackson, we were lucky enough to work with a group of seasoned activists, who have a lot of terrific connections in the city and already know the members of the city council fairly well. Rather than work on beating the pavement with this group, we focused on targeting key decision makers with a sign-on letter for faith leaders and a press conference to kick off our campaign featuring Juan Melendez, the 99th death row exoneree, on his coming visit to Tennessee.

The lesson for us, as organizers, is to find the strengths of the group that you're working with and play to those, whether it's youthful energy or knowledge and connections. With TCASK, we're lucky to have both!

Friday, June 22, 2007


1 Week to Go!

That's right! In almost exactly one week from this moment, we'll be kicking off the TCASK Organizer's Training Institute. We've been working hard bringing in guest facilitators and designing a fun, active, and incredibly enriching weekend to build the skills in our activists to be effective community organizers against the death penalty in their communities. And it's free!

Do you want to be more active against the death penalty but don't know how?

Do you want to build power in your city to move our public officials?

Do you just not know how to start?

Then TOTI is for you! We are almost full for the weekend, but we still have room particularly for folks from West Tennessee or Chattanooga to join us. So come and get empowered! You won't regret it!


It's Never too Late to Do the Right Thing

Yesterday, Rep. Mike Turner's press conference was a success--the media coverage was great as well.

The story was covered across the state by numerous media outlets. News coverage highlights included this story in the Knoxville News Sentinel that garnered some great quotes. Rep. Eric Swafford, Joyce House’s representative, said “I've read the court case. I've looked at the evidence. Paul House would not have been convicted," said the Pikeville Republican, who also signed the petition. "It's never too late to do the right thing."

Also, Rep. Gerald McCormick, a Chattanooga Republican who signed the petition, said he supports capital punishment but not in this case. "Only for the guilty," he said. "Something went wrong here, and I hope the governor will consider the merits of the case."

National media coverage included coverage by USA TODAY found here.

We also had visual media coverage including News Channel 5’s coverage that displayed our awesome Paul House t-shirts. The article can be found here. Even more reason to buy these amazing shirts!

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Free Paul House T-Shirts!

Viewing the previous posts, you might have noticed that the TCASK activists at the press conference were wearing some pretty awesome t-shirts. That's because our new Free Paul House t-shirts arrived in the office and are available to you now! We want people on the streets to start seeing this message everywhere, so get your t-shirt today and support Paul and Joyce House!

I wish we had high tech ordering mechanisms, but, unfortunately, we don't, so to order your t-shirt just send a check to TCASK at:

508 Main Street

Nashville, TN 37206

T-shirts are $15 which includes are shipping and handling costs to send them to you. They are $10 in the office for sizes S,M,L, or XL and $12 for XXL (blame our printer, they charge us more for these).
I think they're pretty cool, so we need to get out and show 'em off!


A Mother's Plea

Today as I entered the office at 8AM, I was delighted to be in the presence of Joyce House for the second time since I have moved to Tennessee. She is a beautiful and composed woman amidst the pain and suffering that goes with being separated from the child she gave birth to. It was around my age that Paul was stripped away from life as a free man and was thrown into prison, his home for half of his life. I can’t begin to fathom the anguish and outright depression my mother would undergo if for 20+ years our communication were limited to conversation with glass separation and collect call telephone calls.

At the press conference, Joyce spoke eloquently on behalf of her son and her wish to bring him home. Despite her enthusiasm, there is the reality that Paul is a very sick man and we were reminded of this when Joyce recounted her last visit. She stated, “I saw Paul this past Sunday and as usual he asked me why I am still in here. But, as I was readying to leave, he confessed to me something I had not heard from him before. He said, “Mom, I think I’m going to die in here.””

When I showed up this morning, the first thing I brought up in conversation was this awesome hot pot that my mom had just sent me because she knew of my love for tea. The bond between mother and son goes beyond love; it is a connection between body and soul--one that can never be broken. Joyce then stated with her knowing eyes, “I gave my Paul one of those too.” In that moment, I was heartbroken, because even though the love that I share for my mom and Joyce for her son is equitable, my ability to see or talk to my mom is unfettered.

Governor Bredesen, why is Paul House still in prison? This question will trouble me until the day that pardon is signed. Furthermore, it is a question the Governor has failed to truly answer. It is our job as death penalty abolitionists, and simply fair and just minded citizens of Tennessee and the United States to force the Governor to answer this question and in doing so, allow him to realize that freeing Paul House is the right thing to do.

You can hear the entire press conference on this terrific blog post by Mary Mancini at Liberadio.


TCASK Press Release: Legislators Call on Governor to Free Paul House

Nashville: Today Representative Mike Turner (D- Hickory Hollow) held a press conference to call on Governor Bredesen to free Tennessee death row inmate Paul Gregory House, who has been on Tennessee’s death row for 22 years. Representative Turner presented a letter signed by more than 30 members of the Tennessee General Assembly, both Democrat and Republican, calling on the Governor to issue a full pardon to House.

“The United States Supreme Court has said that no reasonable jury would convict this man if they looked at all the evidence now available in the case,” said Turner. “We should do the right thing and get this man home to his mother instead of letting him die in prison. Tennessee is an honorable state, and we’re better than that.”

House has been diagnosed with progressive Multiple Sclerosis. He is confined to a wheelchair and his health continues to degrade. There is deep concern that he could die in prison. House was convicted of the murder of Carolyn Muncey in 1985, but since that time DNA has evidence conclusively proved that House did not commit the rape which the state presented as the theory of the crime. Moreover, new witnesses have come forward testifying that Muncey’s husband confessed to killing his wife, and forensics evidence has demonstrated that blood found on House’s pants did not come from Carolyn Muncey’s body but rather from vials of blood taken from her body after death. In June of 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that House met the standard of actual innocence, i.e. that “no reasonable juror would lack a reasonable doubt” in the case.

Joining Representative Turner were Joyce House, Paul House’s mother, and Charlie Strobel, a representative of Murder Victim’s Families for Human Rights whose mother was murdered.

“On my last visit, Paul told me that he thought he would die in prison, and I told him no you won’t!” said Joyce House, “Governor Bredesen, just imagine what you would feel as a parent if your son was in the same situation. Please, Governor, send my son home to me.”

Turner plans to present his letter to the Governor with a delegation of his fellow legislators in the coming weeks. He hopes that such a broad spectrum of legislators will convince the Governor to closely examine the case and decide to take action.

“I believe that the Governor is a fair man,” said Turner. “He and his wife have been terrific champions of victims’ rights over the years. In this case Paul House is a victim.”

# # #

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


24 Hours To Go!

24 hours from now, at 9:00 am Thursday morning, Rep Mike Turner will hold a press conference calling on the Governor to free Paul House after more than 22 years on Tennessee's death row! Rep. Turner will be joined by Joyce House, Paul's mother, a representative of Murder Victim's Families for Human Rights, and a number of other members of the Tennessee General Assembly. They will present a letter to Governor Bredesen, signed by over 25 legislators, both Democrat and Republican, abolitionists and death penalty supporters. The point is, Paul House's case transcends the partisan divide, or even the debate about the morality of capital punishment. House has been incarcerated for nearly half of his life for a crime for which the United States Supreme Court says no reasonable jury would convict him!

So come out tomorrow at 9:00 to Room 30 of Legislative Plaza at the Tennessee State Capitol and show your support for Paul House. As usual, the Nashville Scene is already on top of the story, posting an article in its online blog today! We continue to pray that the Governor will do the right thing and get House home to his mother rather than allow a very sick and innocent man to die in prison.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


More Good News Nationally

This week's Newsweek carries a great interview with the Death Penalty Information Center's Director, Richard Dieter, discussing the growing distrust of the death penalty in America. In fact, a new national poll finds that 58% of Americans would support a nationwide moratorium! That's not as high as the percentage of Tennesseans (66%) who would support a moratorium in our state, but it's incredible that the message that innocent people get sentenced to death and that the death penalty is unfair has shaken support for the death penalty to such a degree.

Check out the whole story here.


Myth: The Death Penalty Deters Murder

As many of you know, a June 10 Associated Press article pointed to statistical studies from the University of Colorado at Denver and Emory University claiming to demonstrate that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to homicide. What I haven't seen in the press are the follow up studies by top social scientists, such as Jeffrey Fagan of Columbia University, which reject those conclusions as well as the flawed methodology used to reach them.

However, ACLU staff attorney, Cassy Stubbs, recently summarized the various problems with the Emory and U of Colorado studies while referring to more reliable studies, which showed that the death penalty not only does not have a deterrent effect on the murder rate but may actually increase the number of murders. In fact, one of the Emory researchers claiming the deterrent effect, Joanna Shepherd, published her own study of various states with the death penalty which showed that the death penalty did deter murder in 6 states, but increased murder in 13 states, while having no effect in 8.

While I admit, wading through these statistics can be tedious, for me, the telling facts about deterrence are fairly straightforward. States without the death penalty continue to have lower murder rates than do states with the death penalty; and Southern states, accounting for over 80% of executions in the U.S., have consistently higher murder rates than the other four regions of the country. Let's face it, if executions had any deterrent effect, Texas would have little violent crime, which, as we know, is not the case.

Considering the fact that all other Western, industrialized nations have abolished the death penalty and have much lower violent crime rates than the U.S., we would be wise to expend our resources and energy in examining the root causes of the violence in our country and exploring ways to prevent murders (i.e. early childhood programs, increased numbers of police officers on the streets, education and job training, more mental health care and drug treatment programs) as opposed to spending millions of dollars to react to the violence once a life has been taken.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Garage Sale + Waffle House = A Great Saturday

Who here doesn’t enjoy a good old fashioned garage sale? Furthermore, who here loves raising money to free an innocent man off of Tennessee’s death row? Paul House’s family members and TCASK put on a garage sale in Knoxville on Saturday June 16th to do just that. The garage sale was chock full of a variety of items thoughtfully donated by members of the local community and the organizers of the garage sale. Special thanks go out to Susan Bowen, Pam House, and Paul’s mother, Joyce House. They put up numerous signs for the garage sale and spent an entire Saturday sitting in the hot sun peddling items to passerby’s and supporters of our cause.

Early mornings are TCASK's specialty as the organizers departed Nashville at 445 AM and arrived at 830 to get the party started. At the garage sale Alex, Kathryn Lea, and Isaac incited conversation and discussion on Paul House’s case, the Tennessee death penalty, romance novels, and alien shaped water bottles as we explained the purpose to our fundraising event. Overall the garage sale was a success as we raised valuable funds that will be put forth to freeing Paul House as well as signing up new TCASK members to stay informed on and champion death penalty abolition.

The trip would not be complete however until a timely trip to a nearby Waffle House where our busy organizers gorged themselves on the delicious hash browns that W.H. has perfected. The variety of items available to top the delicious potatoes (tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, ham, and much more) is no different than the plethora of problems with our state’s capital punishment system. Not my greatest analogy, but we all still have Waffle House on the mind!


Bredesen and Mumpower Called Out by Hometown Paper!

Today's Bristol Herald-Courier carries an editorial in support of the legislature's passage of the death penalty study bill. What!? The Tri-cities!? Isn't that the conservative section of the state? Well maybe so, but maybe the message that Tennessee's death penalty system is broken is getting out there. The Courier points out that nearly all of Tennessee's death row inmates are poor, people of color are overly represented and often tried by all-white juries, and nearly half are overturned on appeal.

But what is even better is that the paper calls out House Minority Leader Jason Mumpower for voting against the legislation, and this is Mumpower's hometown paper! It reads in part:
The text of the bill offers no clues. Surely Mumpower agrees that the state should "exercise the utmost care in matters of life and death" and that "the execution of an innocent person by the state of Tennessee would be a grave and irreversible injustice"? Or that the criminal just system must be "impartial, equitable, competent [and] accurate" and meet the needs of victims’ family members?

Is Mumpower trying to prove his conservative credentials – to be known as the lawmaking equivalent of a hanging judge?

Watching the vote on this bill, I was pretty shocked as well that 14 members of the House would vote against a study, with bi-partisan sponsorship, that seeks to guarantee that innocent people aren't executed.

But what's even better, the editorial calls on the Governor to halt executions until the study is complete: We urge the governor to use his power to stop any executions during the study period. It’s the right thing to do. How often do you hear that? So hats off to the Courier for a courageous, rational, and thoughtful stance!

Check out the entire piece here.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


TOTI is coming to town—and he’s not Italian

The weekend of June 29th through July 1st will be a very special one for TCASK as we will be holding our first ever training institute—the TCASK Organizer Training Institute. The weekend will be focused on the keystones of organizing as we spread the skills and messages to folks ready to take action in their individual communities. As an organizer the instances that I have felt the most empowered is when I empower others to take action. To see passionate individuals realize that they have the ability within themselves to effectively recruit new volunteers, sustain those volunteers, take action through planning events, and then build power through coalition building is truly an amazing sight. TOTI will give our citizen action takers those skills as we spread the message to the West, the East, and Middle Tennessee giving us more power and access in our state office in Nashville.

TOTI will focus on the three main themes of organizing: recruitment and sustainability, taking action, and coalitions. We will touch on a plethora of topics such as: what an organizer is, volunteer recruitment, power building, planning a campaign, coalition building, event planning, meeting facilitation, and more. The weekend will involve guest facilitators (despite the handsomeness of Alex and I we would like to provide others to look at), films, fun and games, outdoor activities, and food prepared by us!

For anyone out there interested in attending please apply to Alex at Whether you consider yourself a seasoned organizer or a newbie, it is the interest in ending the death penalty that binds us together. Therefore, TOTI will give individuals the skills to channel their passion into effective campaigns. I highly encourage people to apply—an added bonus is that we are holding it at one of our most awesome supporter’s farm in Cookeville. I’ve been told it is a truly beautiful place, fitting as we hope to make this world a little bit more beautiful by ridding it of the ugliness that is the death penalty.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

What!? That's right, after a guilty verdict, the burden of proof turns around. Yesterday, NPR did the first installment of its two part story on Larry Petersen, New Jersey's most recent exoneree. Petersen spent 17 years in prison for a rape and murder that he did not commit. Finally DNA evidence proved him not guilty, but now he's still fighting to get the state to acknowledge that he is innocent, despite New Jersey's admission that he is no longer guilty of the crime. If that sounded confusing to you, then join the club, and welcome to the backwards and contradictory world of capital litigation.

Check out NPR's story here.

The comments by "anonymous" on the previous post, refusing to acknowledge the most basic facts in the case of Tennessee's own Paul House, made me think of the Petersen case. Even after the Supreme Court ruling, even after DNA testing, will we ever acknowledge that Paul House did not commit the crime for which he's been on death row for 22 years.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


My very first TCASK blog on this very important day

I’d like to first take the opportunity to introduce myself and tell you a little bit about who I am before I talk about the significance of June 12th. I was born in Seattle, WA on March 22, 1984. My time there was fleeting as my childhood consisted of frequent moves to the states of Nebraska, California, Michigan, Virginia, and Arizona. I attended Arizona State University (Go Sun Devils!) and graduated this past May with a degree in Justice Studies. I love all sports but adore soccer the most and have recently started playing in a weekly pickup game on Sundays at 3 at JT Moore junior high school. If there are any soccer players out there, I encourage you to join in! Music is my other passion and some of my favorite artists include Michael Franti, Keller Williams, The Roots, and Bob Marley.

I can’t begin to express to you what it means to me to be in this position as TCASK’s field organizer. There are so many causes and issues out there to advocate for and while in college I was engrossed in turning out young people to vote and encouraging our university’s administration to become more environmentally friendly. While those campaigns were incredibly rewarding, the opportunity to work on an issue that has plagued our country since our existence called out louder than any other. The level of passion I have viewed in my short time here amongst Tennessee’s abolitionists is inspiring and I promise to do my best to match your focus and intensity as I spread our important message across this great state.

June 12, 2007 marks the one year anniversary of the United States Supreme Court ruling that in the case of Paul House “no reasonable juror viewing the record as a whole would lack a reasonable doubt.” In other words, no juror in America would find Paul House guilty of the 1985 murder of Carolyn Muncey. I have just begun studying this case and some of the most alarming facts I found include: weak eye witness accounts, exculpatory DNA evidence in regards to the blood and semen samples that played a large role in convicting House, strong evidence pointing towards tampering by police officers, strong evidence pointing towards Hubert Muncey’s guilt. The list goes on and on and any individual, or the highest court in our country, will conclude that House’s conviction was utterly wrong.

Furthermore, while on death row Paul House was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, an extremely painful and debilitating disease. Paul House has spent almost the entirety of my life in prison. When I think back to all that I’ve experienced in the past 23 years and then envision Paul, an innocent man, confined to prison and kept away from his loving mother, it makes me want to cry. So, let’s continue to work hard by encouraging our legislatures and senators to sign on to the letter asking Governor Bredesen to free Paul House and send him home to his mother.

Monday, June 11, 2007


Introducing Isaac!

Today is the first work day for TCASK's new field organizer, Isaac Kimes! Isaac is a recent graduate of Arizona State University's Justice Studies Program and comes to TCASK after a long (believe me, it was really REALLY long) and involved hiring process, highly qualified, motivated, and recommended! Isaac has done extensive work with the Public Interest Research Group in Arizona, working on civil engagement, environmental advocacy, and higher education work. TCASK is thrilled to have Isaac joining our staff, and he should make his introduction to our blog by the end of the day or so!

Welcome, Isaac!

Thursday, June 07, 2007


General Assembly Calls for Study of Death Penalty

TCASK Press Release:

Bi-partisan Legislation Passes Overwhelmingly

Nashville: Today the House of Representatives passed legislation creating a study commission to examine Tennessee’s death penalty system, which opponents have long held to be deeply flawed. The legislation, which unanimously passed the Senate on May 24th, was approved in the House by a vote of 79-14 with 2 members present but not voting. The legislation was introduced by Senator Doug Jackson (D-Dickson) and Representative Rob Briley (D-Nashville) in the House. The House version of the bill was co-sponsored by members of both perties from across the state.

“Today, the Tennessee General Assembly took a stand on the side of justice and fairness,” said Stacy Rector, Executive Director of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing, one of the organizations supporting the legislation. “Tennessee’s death penalty system is dangerously broken, and the legislature should be commended for acknowledging these flaws and taking steps to fix them.”

Several months ago, the American Bar Association released an assessment of Tennessee’s capital punishment system which found that the state was in full compliance with only 7 of the 93 benchmarks put forward to guarantee a fair functioning of the death penalty. Tennessee was found to sentence people to death in a biased manner along racial, economic, and geographic lines, and to sentence people with severe mental illness to death. Even more frighteningly, the state was found to have inadequate avenues for addressing questions of factual innocence of death row inmates.

“Tennessee has a death row of over 100 individuals,” said Rector, “and the largest legal organization in the country has said that we do not even have the proper mechanisms in place to guarantee that we do not execute an innocent person. Tennesseans deserve a system we can trust, and our current system doesn’t meet that standard.”

The study commission will consist of representatives of the House, Senate, Governor, attorneys on both sides of the process, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and victims’ advocates. The study will last one year from the appointment of the commission.

“Tennessee’s death penalty is riddled with flaws, from economic, racial, and geographic disparities in death sentencing to the real threat of executing an innocent person” said Rector. “This study is an essential step in ensuring that true justice prevails in our justice system.”
# # #


Committee Hopping

It's the end of session in the Tennessee General Assembly, which means that scheduling is hectic, work is fast paced, and (if you've laid the groundwork and recruited the right sponsors and co-sponsors) bills can move fast!

Yesterday afternoon, the House Budget Subcommittee met and expedited its work on behind the budget bills with small fiscal notes that the Senate has already taken action on, including . . . HB 2162, the death penalty study bill! The bill sponsored by Rep. Rob Briley, and co-sponsored by Democrats and Republicans from across the state, passed the subcommittee by voice vote, then passed the full Finance, Ways and Means Committee about an hour later!

But wait! There's more! The little bill that could didn't stop there, and neither did the legislature. After a 45 minute break, the House Calendar and Rules Committee convened and they moved (the an amazingly speedy fashion) the bills that had just been passed by the Finance Committee to the House floor session, which will convene today at 10:00 am! Three committees in one afternoon!

Now of course this didn't just happen. We've spent months laying the groundwork for yesterday and today. We worked hard with our legislative partners to recruit excellent sponsors, Rob Briley is the chair of the house Judiciary Committee and an influential member of the Democratic Caucus while Senate sponsor Doug Jackson is the vice-chair of the Senate Judiciary and a death penalty supporter (giving our bill real credibility). And we carefully selected who we would ask to co-sponsor the bill, so we have a number of conservative Republicans and mainstream Democrat signed on. But most importantly, we've received so much help from Mike Murphy and Jennifer Murphy at the Catholic Public Policy Commission, Joe Sweat and Hedy Weinberg at the ACLU, and the folks at NAMI and TACDL. Without those relationships (and organizing is all about personal relationships) we would never be where we are today!

So call your House reps today and tell them to vote in favor of House Bill 2162 to create a commission to study Tennessee's death penalty!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


An Incredible and Tragic Story

No, I'm not talking about the Paul House case right here in Tennessee (although that's certainly an incredible and tragic story). Instead, this past Saturday, a tombstone was placed on the grave of Joe Arridy, a man with the mental capacity of a 5 year old who was executed for a crime that he did not commit in Colorado in 1939. Here's part of this heartbreaking story:

As strange as it may seem for a prison official, Warden Roy Best developed a warm friendship with Joe Arridy. He gave him toys to play with in his cell. The tough warden took Joe home on Christmas Eve of 1939 and presented him with a toy train. The toy train ran an express lane down the corridor of Death Row. A death row inmate would reach through the bars and poke the train over, and Joe would joyfully yell out: “Train wreck! Fix the wreck!” To make Joe happy, the hardened death row inmates would send the toy train back down the corridor to Joe.

The NCADP blog has the entire story here.

Monday, June 04, 2007


The Money Pit

An article in yesterday's Tennessean entitled "U.S. violent crimes rise for second straight year" (also found in The Washington Post) caught my attention as I was skimming over the headlines. According the the article, the number of violent crimes nationwide rose for the second straight year in 2006. Criminologists and law enforcement theorized various reasons for the rise: an increase in the juvenile population, growing numbers of released inmates, and the rise of serious gang problems in smaller jurisdictions. Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, chairman of the Senate crime subcommittee, is quoted as saying, "It's time to get back to crime fighting basics--that means more cops on the streets, equipped with the tools and resources they need to keep our neighborhoods safe." This morning a similar news story ran on a local news station with a focus on cities like Memphis which are struggling with high rates of violent crime and a lack of resources to maintain the number of officers needed to curb the violence.

So, these stories got me to thinking:'s an idea...instead of spending the $2,000,000 plus over and above what it costs to incarcerate someone for life by seeking the death penalty, let's take the money saved by a sentence of life without parole and pay for the additional police officers that our communities need to limit the violence before someone takes a life.'s another idea (I'm on a roll)...let's imagine the money the state of Tennessee, with the 9th largest death row in the country (102 people), could have saved over the last 40 years by not having a death penalty. Now I am the first to admit that math is not my strong suit, but, if you multiply 102 by 2,000,000 plus, I am pretty sure that the product equals a lot of money! With the abolition of the death penalty, Tennessee would see savings in the millions, money which can go to our police, early childhood programs, schools, health care (particularly mental health care), and to help victims of violence truly access the support and resources that they need to begin to heal.

I continue to be amazed at our short sightedness. We execute people. Violent crime rates rise. The state scrambles for enough resources. We pour our money into the black hole of the death penalty. Are we safer?