Friday, August 31, 2007
Governor Commutes Sentence in Texas; be sure to read that article from the New York Times and listen to the back story by the article's author Ralph Blumenthal. In the back story, Ralph talks about the significance of this event and the momentum that the anti-death penalty movement is experiencing right now. I can feel the momentum, can you?
Capital Punishment in America: Revenge begins to seem less sweet; also be sure to read this great article from The Economist as one of the most important publications in the world focuses on this flawed public policy. I especially liked the perspective of Howard Morton at the very end of the article:
In Boulder, Colorado, Howard Morton tells a different story. His son Guy disappeared while hitch-hiking in the Arizona desert in 1975, when he was 18. For more than a decade Mr Morton continued to search for his son. Then, in 1987, a retired deputy sheriff read about Guy in a newspaper, and recalled finding a skeleton in the desert in the year he had disappeared. The medical examiner had mislabeled it as belonging to a Hispanic woman, but dental records proved it was Guy. He had been found with a broken knife blade in his chest. The murderer was never caught.
Mr Morton discovered that over 30% of murders in America are unsolved, like his son's. He found out, too, that the states spend millions of dollars putting a handful of murderers to death while detection is under-financed and thousands of murderers walk free. He became an ardent abolitionist. Anyone close to a murder victim “wants the son of a bitch who did it to die,” he says. “But you've got to catch the son of a bitch. That's more important.”
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Citing a recent 9th Circuit court case, Judge Alcaron states that a lawyer was paid $540 an hour to represent an insolvent company while the hourly rate of court-appointed attorneys in capital cases is $140 an hour. Judge Alcaron continues, "I would be hard-pressed to explain to a bartender or a non-lawyer acquaintance how it is appropriate that an appellate lawyer who is attempting to save a human being's life is compensated at the rate of $140 per hour while the same lawyer could receive as much as $540 per hour to represent an insolvent corporation in bankruptcy proceedings" Read the whole article here
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Tennessee has only executed three people in the past forty years, and yet, this month two executions are pending. Daryl Holton is scheduled to be executed on September 12th and E.J. Harbison on September 26th. Holton's case, having been more recent and involving the deaths of his four children, is one with which many people are familiar. However, E.J. Harbison's case is less well known as his conviction occurred in 1983.
The case of E.J. Harbison is very problematic, involving a variety of issues such as ineffective counsel, racial bias, and arbitrary sentencing. The bottom line is that in 1983, Harbison a poor, borderline mentally retarded, African-American man with no prior criminal record was convicted by an all white jury in the murder of Edith Russell, an elderly white woman, in a botched robbery occurring in Chattanooga.
Although the state claimed that the murder was premeditated, no weapons were brought to the home, and the woman was killed with a vase after she surprised the burglars. While Harbison was sentenced to death after confessing when police threatened to place his girlfriend's children in foster care, his co-defendant, David Schreane--whose criminal history included armed robbery and multiple burglaries--accepted a plea and served only six years.
To make matters worse, police records, first requested before the trial, were not turned over to Harbison until 1997. In those files,counsel discovered that an eyewitness placed David Schreane across the street from the victim's house near the time of the crime and did not identify Harbison as the person with Schreane. Schreane himself, first told police that a different person was with him. The file showed substantial involvement by another man, Ray Harrison, seen around the victim's house at the time of the crime. However, Harbison's direct appeal attorney also represented Harrison concerning this crime, presenting an obvious conflict of interest. The police extradited Harrison to Florida when Schreane implicated Harbison.
Regardless of how one feels about the death penalty, such dramatic unfairness and arbitrariness should not be acceptable to anyone. How does David Schreane, by all accounts a career criminal first arrested by police, end up serving six years and E.J. Harbison, a man with no prior criminal record, end up sentenced to die? Does such an outcome make us safer? Does it serve the needs of the victims' family? Is it justice?
No one knows exactly what happened as the tragic murder of Edith Russell occurred or exactly who was involved. How is justice served by giving one man six years and another death? Never mind that E.J. Harbison is a black man sentenced by an all white jury in the South. Is that fair?
I haven't even discussed the horrific violence and abuse E.J. suffered throughout his life which the jury never heard about...mitigating evidence which might have kept him from receiving the death sentence.
A hearing will be held next week at which Harbison's lawyers will argue that lethal injection is a violation of his 8th amendment rights prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment. The scheduled execution on Sept. 26 will depend, in part, on the outcome of that hearing. Please continue to check our website and blog for updates and actions to take. TCASK will be leading an effort to ask Governor Bredesen to grant clemency to E.J. Harbison if the courts will not intervene. The citizens of Tennessee cannot allow such a travesty of justice to occur in our name.
Monday, August 27, 2007
Can you imagine what it would feel like to live your life in a perpetual nightmare? Imagine if you truly believed, with every bone in your body, that the military government has been conspiring against you for the majority of your life and that all the successes and failures that you experienced were dictated by these conspirators. Paul Dennis Reid is living this nightmare.
Paul Reid believes that his attorneys are part of a conspiracy to psychologically torture him and that he is under surveillance by a secret government agency. He has tactile hallucinations and is totally out of touch with reality. Reid has been diagnosed with schizophrenia - paranoid type as well as schizoaffective disorder as well as left temporal lobe dysfunction, probably the result of a childhood accident that cracked his skull.
Last year, the state's own forensic psychologist determined that Paul Reid was delusional and therefore could not rationally decide to drop his appeals. The prosecutors had no choice but to concur that Reid was mentally incompetent, a rare admission by the state. But now, in a Davidson County courtroom, lawyers for the state Attorney General’s office are again attempting to prove that Reid is a competent defendant and capable of handling his own legal affairs. The most recent competency hearing began on July 31st and included the testimony of Dr. William Bernet, a forensic psychiatrist and expert for the state, who in past hearings, has testified that Reid made up his illness and has “pretended to have delusions.”
Judge Blackburn adjourned the competency hearing until September 4 when the court will hear from a defense expert. Read more about this latest attempt to declare Reid competent in an article by Sarah Kelley of the Nashville Scene HERE. Kudos to Sarah from the Scene as she continues to write amazing articles about Tennessee's death penalty system.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
On Wednesday August 22nd, at 6:20 p.m. the State of
400 lives lost. 400 lives extinguished from existence because we continue to believe that killing them will teach others not to kill. 400 families mourned those 400 lives. Can anyone dispute this? Many out there would like to dismiss those families and remain solely concerned with the families of the victims. Aren’t both families’ victims? Can we not feel for the family of a killer who is killed? I know I can. What about the cases where a husband killed a wife, or a mother killed a child, those families are forced to relive that pain once more.
400 times the State of
Monday, August 20, 2007
This past weekend marked the 12th Annual National Habeas Corpus Seminar. Here’s a description of what that seminar entails just in case you were curious: “This nationally-recognized program, the only one of its kind, focuses on representation in capital habeas cases in toto. Habeas experts discuss issue identification, investigation, factual and legal development and representation of claims, the use of mitigation and mental health experts, and substantive and procedural habeas corpus jurisprudence. The program is designed for, and attendance is limited to, Federal Defender staff, Criminal Justice Act panel attorneys, and state court practitioners who are currently appointed, or seeking appointment to, a capital habeas corpus proceeding.”
Now I’m not a fancy big city lawyer (Simpsons quote for you fans out there), and some of the terms above I don’t understand. What I do know though is that this seminar attracts some of the best lawyers out there (many of which work on death penalty cases) and gives them the tools to do their jobs even better. And, it’s facilitated by the best of the best in that field. These lawyers and experts work hard, but they also know how to play hard, which is why they host a benefit concert to which the proceeds are directed to various charitable groups. This year, ALL of the proceeds went to TCASK. When Susan McBride, who coordinated the concert, informed of this, we were thrilled. Susan worked hard to ensure that we had some A-list acts as well as great publicity—both were achieved. Thank you so much Susan for making this a great night.
The night at Third and Lindlsey was kicked off by the young, but very talented Sarah Lenore. It then shifted gears to the attorney roots rock group, The Reprieves. I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical at first to hear a band made up of lawyers, but my skepticism turned to wonder as I watched and listened to a passionate band made up of passionate attorneys—including John Blume and Keir Weyble. I feel very privileged to have met these two amazing individuals who have dedicated their lives to one of the toughest fields in law. A very special thanks goes out to John and Keir who helped make the concert a success.
Next up was
A slide show of pictures taken by our very talented TCASK photogs Harry and Karan Simpson can be found HERE.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
In Tuesday's edition of the LA Times, reporter Richard Schmitt reveals that the Justice Department is putting the final touches on regulations to significantly shorten the time death row inmates have to appeal their convictions. The new regulations implement a provision within the reauthorized Patriot Act which gives the Attorney General the power to decide if states are providing adequate counsel to defendants in death penalty cases, authority previously held by federal judges.
Not only would this move usurp the power of the federal courts and significantly increase the caseloads of the courts, but it would also, and more frighteningly, put more wrongfully convicted people in danger of execution. In fact, if such regulations were already in place, new evidence in the Paul House case would never have been heard by federal courts, and he would likely have already been executed.
Furthermore, this move would give Alberto Gonzales, a man with an abysmal record on the death penalty, more power to hasten executions. Perhaps the Attorney General should first see to all the problems within his own Justice Department before he attempts to do the work of federal judges.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
In less than one month from now, on September 12th, the state of Tennessee plans to execute Daryl Holton, a man inadequately represented at his trial and who has a history of mental illness.
When serving this country in the military, Holton spent a month in a psychiatric facility and has a history of suicide attempts. He also has been diagnosed with severe depression which makes his perception of reality extremely tenuous, leading him to commit the tragic crimes for which he is now on death row.
In 1997, after the break-up of his marriage, Daryl Holton, in what can only be described as a delusional state, killed his four children after he determined that their lives would be ruined if they had to grow up in a broken home. Holton's intention was to then kill his ex-wife and himself, but he stopped when he realized that no one would be left to tell the story.
Since arriving on death row, Holton's depression has deepened. He has chosen to end his appeals and has dismissed his legal counsel. He has also chosen electrocution as his method of execution, raising more issues concerning his mental state considering that the electric chair has not been used in Tennessee in more than 40 years. In fact, the chair's designer has expressed grave concerns as to its reliability, meaning that it could potentially torture Daryl Holton without killing him.
There are really no words to describe the scope of the tragedy in this case. I have seen Daryl Holton's mother at the prison visiting her son. I have seen the pain in her eyes and the heartbreak she carries with her everyday. I think about the fact that the victims' family members in this case are also the family members of the one who will be executed. Executing Daryl Holton, a man whose mental illness is apparent, will only compound the tragedy of already suffering people.
Nothing the state can do to Daryl Holton will bring those precious children back. However, what the state does to Daryl Holton will have a profound affect on his mother and the rest of his family, people already traumatized by unspeakable loss. The state's actions toward Daryl Holton will also have an affect on us, the people of Tennessee, as we become participants in more violence in order to enact vengeance upon a sick man.
I will continue to pray for and to work toward the day when we can find another way to deal with the violence in our society without creating more of the same. I hope you will too.
Monday, August 13, 2007
When I first took the position of TCASK’s field organizer I inquired upon the utility of visiting someone on death row. I was genuinely interested in doing it for a number of reasons and initially was interested because I wanted to gain a perspective on the actual population that our mission is working to save. I yearned to see death row, talk to inmates, and better understand the pain and suffering they have gone through, caused, and are still experiencing. Two months later, I am in the beginning stages of the death row visitation process and I now have a slightly altered perspective of what it means to be a visitor, albeit, I’ll have a full perspective once I begin visitation.
I have begun corresponding with a member of Tennessee’s death row (who I will likely visit) by writing the individual a letter talking about myself, what I like to do, and what my interests are. While writing the letter there were points when I questioned some of the content of my writing and whether or not I should express detail into my travels, playing sports and other activities that as a free man, I enjoy. What I realized though was that in holding back and attempting to write a “shell” letter about my life and what I enjoy, it would be hard to truly develop a friendship with this person. I felt that, this person, this stranger who might someday become my friend, deserves to be exposed fully to who I am. All too often, the members of death row are dehumanized into nothing more than a number, a statistic. Is it not possible that they too have the very same interests that we have as free members of society revel in?
I know that through this process I will learn about death row and see the population that our organization fights for. But, I believe what is most important, is that I will soon begin a relationship with a person who needs a friend. I want to be someone they can count on, someone they can call when they feel down, and someone that can bring some light into their life. Conversely, I hope that I can go to them when I’m feeling down and that they will bring some light into my life, because, every single person on this earth, former murderers and rapists included, has some light to give.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Though Paul House remains in prison, there is more reason to hope that his ordeal may finally be coming to an end. As we have told you in previous blogs, the state recently decided to waive the procedural issues which were blocking a judge from hearing the case on the merits. Within the next two weeks, Judge Mattice should have the information that he needs to make a decision. The Judge will likely spend a few months with the case, deliberating, writing an opinion, etc. with a decision being made by year's end.
Though the end of the year still seems like a long time to wait, considering Paul has been waiting for 22 years, a few more months is doable, if it means Paul's ultimate release. We will continue to keep you posted as we have more information.
In the meantime, we, at TCASK, are still selling our "Free Paul House" t-shirts and encouraging you to wear them as much as possible to inform Tennesseans about this case. Without the efforts of so many of you who have worked for Paul's release for so long, we would not be where we are today, possibly just months away from Paul going home to his mother, Joyce. If you would like to purchase a t-shirt, please email us email@example.com or call us #615-256-3906.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
As you read on Monday, last Thursday I was in Memphis, Tennessee organizing around our Student Conference on the Death Penalty (October 6th, MTSU campus).
Dinner time had rolled around and the
“Emmanuel House Community is a residential community in the Catholic Worker tradition. We seek to give each other mutual support in a life of discipleship and service. We share a life given to simplicity, reflection, prayer, nonviolence, and work that supports human dignity. Current activities include: Prayerful reflection four times a week, Weekly demonstrations for peace and the abolition of the death penalty volunteer work with ministries for the homeless, Maintenance of the Liberation Closet, a collection of clothing and shoes for use by indigent defendants appearing in court, Hospitality for visiting activists, people in need and peace and justice groups, Preaching and teaching at local churches and organic gardening on a small scale.”
The mission statement should also include: “You will live with two very cool people in one of the neatest houses (apartment on apartment technically) in
We had dinner at a local Vietnamese restaurant with some other Memphis TCASK activists. Conversation wavered between the city of
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
There are benefits, then, there are benefits. The Federal Habeas Annual Conference benefit is August 17 at Third and Lindsley. Death Penalty attorneys from all over the
For tickets, contact TCASK at 615-256-3906 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional tickets at the door.
Event contact: Susan McBride email@example.com or 615-258-2672
Monday, August 06, 2007
This past Thursday I had the pleasure of spending the entire day and night in
I met with Dr. Charles Bailey at Corky’s BBQ for lunch. Corky’s, from what I understand, is one of the best bbq joints in town (I’ve also heard good things about Rendevzvous, although Charles said that was the place for tourists). Dr. Bailey is a TCASK supporter and an accomplished academic in the field of accountancy. At the
Now of course, I didn’t drive three hours and spend TCASK funds on gas to grab some finger licking bbq in
“Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy." Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — "We want to be free."
I met with a young African American leader, Brandon Harris, President of the Memphis NAACP Youth Council and we discussed the death penalty, the importance of youth, and how trouble is in the land and confusion is still all around. Being President of the Memphis NAACP Youth Council equates to a constituency of 1000 deep. This 17 year old young man has heeded the call of legends such as MLK and amidst college applications and his last year of high school he leads other young people into desiring change, reform, and the advancement of his brothers and sisters. I told him that we have a goal of 100 students for our conference in October, that’s 60 more than last year, and we had zero come from
I will conclude blogging about the rest of the trip on Wednesday.
Friday, August 03, 2007
Following the service, we came back to the TCASK office to train several of our activists to become speakers in our new Murder Victims' Family Speaker's Bureau. This program pairs a murder victims' family member with an activist to make presentations in the community. The family member shares his/her story and reasons for opposing the death penalty while the activist talks about the failure of the death penalty system to serve our state as a public policy. Though we wondered if we should attempt such a training on Saturday given our emotional state, we ultimately decided that we should carry on, as a tribute to Harmon's life which was devoted to the whole idea of restorative justice. On Sunday, Alex headed out to Chicago, via a stop in New York City, to begin a new chapter in his life.
So, this week has been one of reflecting and regrouping. Isaac has been to both Jackson and Memphis to work with and encourage our chapters there. I have been doing a lot of work on fundraising and planning for what's next.
And, there is a lot coming up next.
We are waiting for a District Court Judge to hear the Paul House case on the merits which may finally secure Paul's release. We also are eagerly anticipating the appointment of the study commission and are preparing for the commission's meetings which will begin in the fall. Both securing Paul's freedom and seeing this study commission come into being are goals toward which we have been working for a long time. Such positive things are happening in our state to set the stage for moratorium and abolition, and we believe more good is to come, and yet...
Though the Tennessee legislature has acknowledge there are terrible problems with our current death penalty system and though Paul House, who was wrongfully convicted, may finally receive the justice that is way overdue, Tennessee is still planning two executions in September: Daryl Holton, whose execution is set for September 12th, and E.J. Harbison, whose date is September 26th. We must also prepare for difficult days ahead.
If you are in an area with a TCASK chapter--Memphis, Nashville, Jackson, Knoxville, Murfreesboro, or Chattanooga--and would like to attend a meeting or get more involved, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can give you any information you need. We have so much to celebrate as we enter the fall, but we face many hurdles yet...lives are at stake. As we begin a new chapter in TCASK's life, let's all recommit to the work of abolition, ready to achieve even more in the months ahead.