Friday, June 29, 2007
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: http://scotusblog.files.wordpress.com/2007/06/06-6407.pdf. To view the NAMI amicus brief: www.nami.org/policy/panetti
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
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
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
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
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!
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.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
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
You can hear the entire press conference on this terrific blog post by Mary Mancini at Liberadio.
“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
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
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
Who here doesn’t enjoy a good old fashioned garage sale? Furthermore, who here loves raising money to free an innocent man off of
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!
Is Mumpower trying to prove his conservative credentials – to be known as the lawmaking equivalent of a hanging judge?
Thursday, June 14, 2007
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
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
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
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
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
Thursday, June 07, 2007
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.”
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
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