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Thursday, March 20, 2008


A Tribute

By now, most everyone has already heard about the tragedy at the University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill, with the murder of the student body President, Eve Carson. It appears that Eve was the victim of a random act of violence which took her young life and all its potential. Two young men have been arrested for her murder.

In the wake of such a horrible, senseless tragedy, there is always anger, fear, and confusion, particularly when the victim is someone who so many people knew and who has served as such a fine example of service to others. The question for us as a people is always, "How do we choose to respond when faced with such violence and disregard for human life?"

Steve Dear, a friend and colleague in the abolition movement who is the executive director of North Carolina's People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, wrote a wonderful op ed for a local paper in North Carolina concerning the tragedy. The piece was so moving that I wanted to share it with you.

Please read the op ed here.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Write-a-Thon Final Tally

Happy St. Patrick's Day! If you're not wearing green, I hope you get pinched.

My favorite holiday, International Death Penalty Abolition Day, has passed. This year's commemoration of the day that Michigan abolished the death penalty in 1847 on March 1st was a special one. 2008 was the 6th year that TCASK volunteers from across the state wrote letters to their elected officials in organized write-a-thons. Write-a-thons happened in Memphis, Nashville (3 of them), Sewanee, and Knoxville. After the last count, there have been over 250 letters sent to members of the Tennessee legislature. 250 is the largest amount ever sent by a coordinated effort in Tennessee. So, if you participated in the 2008 International Death Penalty Abolition Day Write-a-Thon in Tennessee, you were part of record setting effort. Kudos!

However, if you were not able to make it to one of the write-a-thon locations, do not fret. Salvation can be found by CLICKING HERE. This link will take you to our letter-writing page that has sample letters that you can download to write your legislators. If the letters are not downloading correctly, check back later, or email me at Letter writing is one of the most influential ways to communicate with politicians. When they receive a hand-written letter, they take it seriously. Continue to write letters--don't limit this important activity to once a year--make your voice heard!

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Friday, March 07, 2008


A Definitive Cost Study

When the presidential nominees give their speeches after a primary has been completed, they typically begin by thanking the state they are in. "Thank you Ohio." "Thank you Iowa." etc. etc. Today, I would like to say from Nashville, "Thank you Maryland." The Abell Foundation, located in Baltimore, funded a definitive cost study conducted by the Urban Institue, "a national, nonpartisan research organization in Washington."

The study concluded that the death penalty "has cost Maryland taxpayers at least $186 million more in prosecuting and defending capital murder cases over two decades than would have been spent without the threat of execution." "The study estimates that the cost of reaching a single death sentence costs the state an average of $3 million, which is $1.9 million more than a non-death penalty case costs, even after factoring in the long-term costs of incarcerating convicted killers not sentenced to death."

The article that covered the release of the study gets into greater detail about how these figures were determined. I found the methodology to be highly logical. I implore you to read the article by CLICKING HERE.

"Although groups in many death penalty states have analyzed the cost of such cases, the Urban Institute's Maryland study is the first to statistically control for factors that might otherwise make a capital case more expensive," said Andrew Davies, a researcher with the New York State Defenders Association, which in the 1980s completed the first such study. "The argument goes that ... death penalty cases might be worse or more heinous cases, so that even if they weren't death penalty cases, they still would be more expensive," he said. "But in this study, they've isolated the pure effect of the death penalty on inflating the cost of cases." I'd also like to point out that the study did not include "costs associated with federal court proceedings in state capital cases."

Studies like these are paramount in showing citizens and their leaders that the death penalty is a costly and ineffective public policy. Maryland has come very close to getting abolition legislation on their legislature's floor in the past. This study should help that effort out significantly. This study also reaffirms my annoyance that the death penalty is justified even though it is a terrible public policy. We must place the same magnifying glass on the death penalty as we place on all other forms of public policy.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008


More Harm Than Good

There is a murder case in Knoxville that is attracting a lot of news coverage. The case involves the murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom aged 21 and 23 respectively. The state is seeking the death penalty for the four individuals that are being charged for the murder. On Monday, March 3rd, WVLT (Volunteer TV) ran a story about Tennessee's death penalty in conjunction with the Christian-Newsom murder. You can view the video by clicking HERE.

Highlights of the video include District Attorney General Al Schmutzer stating the following: "if we cannot actually carry out what we say we are going to do in a reasonable amount of time, then we really need to get rid of it because I think it's doing more harm than good." You may remember that General Schmutzer is on the committee to study the administration of the death penalty in Tennessee.

I think that Schmutzer's argument is a valid one. If the intent of the death penalty is to enact the punishment worthy of that sentence, then the state of Tennessee is failing. The average death sentence in Tennessee is over 22 years. The death penalty is promised to families after the murder of their loved ones. Those who find solace in the knowledge that the perpetrator will be executed have to wait two decades while reliving the story over and over again as the inmate seeks his/her appeals. Only 3% of homicides result in a death sentence. The state of Tennessee has only executed 4 inmates since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. Why is the state spending millions on a public policy that has been realized 4 times in over 30 years?

Fortunately, questions such as that are being answered in the reform oriented study committee. Those who would have you believe that the study committee has an abolitionist purpose or is holding up executions in the state of Tennessee are flat out wrong. The committee is made up of a cross-section of the law and is chaired by a pro-death penalty state senator (Sen. Doug Jackson). Executions are not occurring because the US Supreme Court is undergoing a case questioning the constitutionality of the current lethal injection protocols.

I want to thank General Schmutzer for stating what he believes. A public policy that makes promises it does not keep should not be in existence. And, a public policy that is arbitrary, capricious, and costly should not be in existence.

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Monday, March 03, 2008


Another Write-a-thon Success Story

All over the state, citizens of Tennessee gathered to celebrate International Death Penalty Abolition Day on March 1, marking the date in 1847 when the state of Michigan officially became the first English-speaking territory in the world to abolish capital punishment. Write-a-thons were held in Memphis, Sewanee, and Nashville. Knoxville will be holding their event on March 5th. Writers gathered in local coffee shops, at Memphis Theological Seminary, and at Second Presbyterian Church in Nashville to make their voices heard.
As of last count, nearly 150 letters had been written, with more on the way. These letters are a critical tool in sharing our concerns about the the fairness and accuracy of Tennessee's death penalty. When constituents take the time to hand write a letter, legislators pay attention!
If you didn't get a chance to attend one of the write-a-thons, sample letters will be posted on the tcask website this week for you to use as a model for your own letters. It only take a few minutes to make a big difference. Grab a pen and paper and change the state of Tennessee for the better!