We are traveling through Tennessee's heartland and highways, meeting folks and starting conversations about our death penalty.

Get our blog by email!
Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Click here to check out
The Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty - Nashville!

Add to Technorati Favorites

Powered by Blogger

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Bob Clement Reflects on His Father, Governor Frank Clement, and Tennessee's Death Penalty

In Sunday's Tennessean, former U.S. Congressman Bob Clement, reflects on his father's struggle with the death penalty as Governor of Tennessee. Governor Frank Clement visited the inmates on death row and talked with their families, something most Governors will not do. During his third term, he asked the legislature to abolish the death penalty, coming within one vote in the house after the Senate voted for abolition 25-7. With abolition narrowly denied, Governor Clement commuted the sentences of all those on Tennessee's death row to life sentences.

We continue to be grateful for Governor Clement's leadership on the issue of the death penalty in Tennessee which has helped to keep Tennessee's execution rate lower than other Southern states. I hope that as more people understand the failures of the current system, Tennessee can become the first Southern state to repeal the death penalty.

Read the article here.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Fox News Reports Crippling Costs of the Death Penalty

In an article posted on Saturday, Fox News reporter, Ed Barnes, writes about the exorbitant costs of the death penalty in this country, with Tennessee's system specifically mentioned. One of the most telling statements in the story--"The cost of killing killers is killing us."

The reality of the death penalty is that it drains state resources away from those measures that have been shown to prevent crime and is a public policy failure. We can do better.

Read the full story here.

Click here to vote in the Fox News poll on the death penalty

Thursday, March 25, 2010


U.S. Supreme Court Stops Texas Execution of Hank Skinner

Hank Skinner was already eating his last meal Wednesday when he received word of his stay from the U.S. Supreme Court. Skinner was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1993 murders of his girlfriend, Twila Busby, and her two mentally disabled adult sons. Skinner has always maintained his innocence and for more than a decade, has been asking Texas courts to test DNA evidence that was not analyzed during his 1995 trial. The evidence still untested includes a rape kit from Busby, biological material under her fingernails, hair and sweat on a man’s windbreaker, a bloody towel, and knives found at the scene remain. His requests for DNA testing of this evidence have been repeatedly rejected.

Toxicology tests from Skinner showed that he was passed out on the couch, nearly in a coma from a mix of vodka and codeine, at the time of the crime. He argues that the real murderer attacked Busby and her sons while he was passed out. And the ex-girlfriend who testified against him at the trial later recanted her story.

Skinner is convinced that the real killer was Busby’s uncle, Robert Donnell, who was killed in a 1997 car crash. Donnell had a violent past, an incestuous relationship with Busby, and had made unwanted drunken advances toward her at a party the night of the murders.

Larry King Live featured this story last night. Watch it here.

You can read more about this case here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Justice Day on the Hill 2010

Yesterday, nearly 30 Tennesseans gathered at the state capitol for TADP’s Annual Justice Day on the Hill. To start the day, we gathered in the Old Supreme Court chambers in the Capitol building and were inspired by several legislators who addressed the group. The legislators shared their concerns about the death penalty, including its cost, lack of fairness, and risk of executing an innocent person. To drive the concerns about innocence home, Paul House and his mother, Joyce, were present for Justice Day for the first time together. Paul spent 23 years on Tennessee’s death row before all charges against him were dropped in May 2009.

We also heard a moving tribute to the late Representative Larry Turner by his wife and current state representative, Johnnie Turner. Larry Turner always addressed TADP on Justice Day, and last year, he spoke at the TADP Justice Day press conference about his support and sponsorship of moratorium legislation. Yesterday, Johnnie reiterated how much Larry believed in abolition, even though his own brother had been brutally murdered just a few years ago while on the job in Memphis. Larry’s opposition to the death penalty never wavered. We all joined Johnnie in remembering and giving thanks for Larry, for his convictions, his witness, and his service to the state of Tennessee.

After the morning session, we made our way through the halls of Legislative Plaza to meet with legislators concerning a bill repealing Tennessee’s death penalty sponsored by Rep. Jeanne Richardson and Senator Beverly Marrero. The conversations were informative and encouraging. The personal stories told by surviving family members of murder and by the sister of an executed inmate, were particularly compelling to legislators, many of whom had never met anyone whose loved one had been executed. Concerns about the cost of capital punishment also became a key point of discussion considering Tennessee’s budget woes. TADP participants agreed legislators seemed more open to considering the problems with Tennessee’s death penalty system than last year, and we hope that trend will continue next year.

Thanks to all who participated in some part of Justice Day on the Hill! Because of you, we are moving closer to the day when the death penalty in Tennessee will be repealed.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Fast for Life and Raise Money for TADP

A few years ago, former TADP board chair and active supporter, Dr. Amy Sayward, decided that she would combine her support for TADP with her spiritual practices during Holy Week. Subsequently, the TADP "Fast for Life" was born.

Amy recalls, "On February 4th of 2009, I joined 66 other people in the single-digit cold, standing in an open field, trying to keep our candles lit, as the State of Tennessee executed yet another of its citizens. When I first came to Tennessee in 1998, it hadn't executed anyone since 1960. But that notable achievement is quickly fading; this was the fifth execution. (Since this execution, there has been another, making 6 executions in Tennessee in the modern era of the death penalty). While I'm always struck by the waste of such state actions, this execution was particularly poignant. As Chair of the History Department at Middle Tennessee State University, I had been told earlier in the year that I needed to be prepared to cut $320,000 from my department's budget. In other words, I was facing the prospect of having to let go 8 of my faculty - people who want nothing more in life than to teach and serve our young people - so that the State of Tennessee can continue carrying out such costly public debacles as this. I have rarely been so angry and yet so sad at the same time. And the financial woes for our state continue. TADP, like so many nonprofit organizations doing good work, needs continued support in this tough economy. So I am hoping that my fast can help to raise both awareness and money to help abolish Tennessee's death penalty. I hope you’ll be able to support my effort or join me in the fast."

During Holy Week and the week of Passover (March 30-April 3), Amy Sayward and Stacy Rector will be fasting (missing 10 meals during this period) as a protest against the death penalty. We are asking you to support this effort by donating $1 to TADP for every meal one or both miss. All donations are tax-deductible. Another way to participate is to fast yourself and ask your family and friends to sponsor you. Please note that if you decide to participate by fasting, you should contact your physician about whether or not you are physically able to do so.

Sign up now to participate and demonstrate your commitment to honor life by abolishing the death penalty in Tennessee.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Tennessee Death Row Inmate, Timothy McKinney, Gets a New Trial

Timothy McKinney was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death in 1999. McKinney, an African-American, is accused of killing Donald Williams, an off-duty Memphis police officer after an altercation with Williams earlier in the evening on Christmas night at Crumpy’s Comedy Club in Memphis. The circumstances leading to McKinney’s conviction include: no forensic evidence, inconsistent eyewitness testimony, and inadequate defense.

On Christmas night, 1997, hundreds of people attended a Christmas party at Crumpy's Comedy Club. As the party was winding down, Donald Williams, an off-duty Memphis police officer moonlighting as a security guard at the club, was shot point blank in the back of the neck and was fatally wounded by an assailant whose face was obscured. Within hours, Memphis police identified 23-year old Timothy Terrell McKinney as a suspect.

McKinney became a suspect because police believed him to be a man with whom Williams had quarreled in the club's parking lot a few hours prior to the shooting. After the shooting, as the assailant fled, another off-duty officer providing security, Frank Lee, exchanged gunfire in the alley with the assailant before he got into a car and sped away. Witnesses, including Lee, initially described an assailant dressed completely in black, which did not match McKinney's outfit that night. Lee later identified the man as Timothy McKinney. The description of the getaway car also changed over time and became an exact match for McKinney only after his driver's license was matched with the vehicle he owned. By the time of the trial, however, Lee's description of the assailant's clothing matched what McKinney was wearing that night. Lee told detectives that he was about three car lengths away from the getaway car and fired two or three more shots after the shooter had gotten into the car. Yet McKinney's car, which Lee said he was able to identify because of its tail lights, showed no bullet strikes or damage when it was seized by the police.

Lee testified at trial that the only altercation with a party patron was with McKinney, thus, giving him a motive to kill Williams. However, at the post-conviction hearing, the club owner, Crumpy, testified under oath that he personally ejected an intoxicated party guest from the club then saw an encounter between the man he had ejected and Williams. Crumpy witnessed McKinney taken into custody and told police at the arrest that McKinney was not the man he had thrown out of his club that night.

An officer testifying that he saw McKinney arguing with the victim, according to the police dispatch logs, did not in fact arrive at the club until 2:01 a.m., much later than when he claimed to see McKinney. Radio dispatches to police place the shooting at approximately 2:30 a.m. or even earlier. Yet, at trial, the State placed McKinney at his girlfriend Debra Kimble's house at 2:15 a.m. It is virtually impossible for McKinney to have arrived at Kimble's house by 2:15 a.m. and then return to Crumpy's Comedy Club, park his car in the alley, sneak up on and shoot Officer Williams by 2:30. In addition, McKinney's lawyers never used a statement made by Kimble to a defense investigator that she argued with him for 20 minutes. That would have meant that McKinney was at her house at the time of the shooting.

McKinney's clothing worn that night were seized and logged into evidence, but the State did no scientific testing on the sweater that Lee said McKinney was wearing the night of the shooting. His pants and vest were sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) for analysis, but the scientist could not testify conclusively to the presence of gunshot residue. Though eyewitness reports and the testimony of the medical examiner would suggest that the murder weapon was a .38 caliber revolver, no gun was ever found, and there wasn't enough left of the bullet that struck Williams to determine conclusively the type or caliber of the weapon. No blow-back of blood spray, typical of close gunshot wounds, was found on any of McKinney's clothing.The State testified that no forensic testing was ever done on McKinney's car nor on the skid marks at the crime scene. Incredibly, McKinney's car was sold at a police auction on March 3, 1998, just two months after the shooting and McKinney's arrest.

McKinney's court-appointed attorney presented no evidence during the guilt phase of the trial. His attorneys did not call any witnesses who could have rebutted the prosecution. His lead attorney said that if McKinney was innocent, he didn't have anything to worry about and that the prosecution couldn't prove its case. His defense attorneys did not do an independent investigation of the facts nor did they interview any of the people who could testify to McKinney's alibi and version of the events. His attorneys were reluctant to ask for the records or subpoena police reports and dispatch logs that would have enabled the defense to create an accurate timeline of the events that night. And, in an inexplicable legal move, his attorneys actually agreed in writing not to pursue discovery of those items or of the witness statements that could have contradicted the official account at trial.

After his conviction and death sentence, McKinney was appointed the Post-Conviction Defender (PCD) to represent him. The PCD discovered numerous documents which were never turned over to the defense prior to his 1999 trial, including police dispatch and 911 logs that establish a much shorter timeline for McKinney to commit the crime; statements from other witnesses describing a shooter not matching McKinney or his car; and the revelation that the lay eyewitness who testified at trial did not identify McKinney in the first photo lineup she was shown.

A post-conviction hearing was held in early 2006 with forty-two witnesses testifying. McKinney's lawyers argued that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel at both his trial and direct appeal, and that there had been numerous violations of both the Tennessee and U.S. Constitutions. Despite these efforts, on August 31, 2006, McKinney was denied relief by the post-conviction trial judge. A brief in the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals was filed in 2007 by the New York Firm Davis Polk appealing the denial of post-conviction relief.

Yesterday, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in Timothy McKinney's favor concluding that the defendant was “deprived of effective assistance of counsel at both the guilt and penalty phases of the trial. Accordingly, the judgment of the post-conviction court is reversed and the matter is remanded for a new trial.”

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


20/20 Highlights Innocence Issues for Two Tennessee Death Row Inmates

On Saturday night, ABC News' 20/20 did a story on the cases of Gary Sutton and James Dellinger, two men who have been on Tennessee's death row since the early 90's. The men were sent to death row based on the testimony of former Tennessee Medical Examiner, Charles Harlan, who was fired and lost his medical license.

The story raises troubling issues about these cases and provides yet more evidence that innocent people are sitting on Tennessee's death row.

Watch the story here. Once you are on the website, to see both parts of the story, look at the column on the right under the date March 5. Then, click on "Inmates on Death Row: Is Harlan to Blame" and next click, "20/20 Confronts Dr. on Charges" You will be amazed by what is revealed.

Regardless of one's position on the death penalty, such troubling cases as these are more evidence of a system that is completely broken and cannot be trusted to always get it right. With alternatives available, why take such risks?

Monday, March 08, 2010


The Case of Gaile Owens: Unequal Justice

On January 15, 1986, Gaile Owens was sentenced to death for the murder of her husband, Ron Owens, by a jury that did not have all the facts. The jury was never told about the abuse Gaile suffered at the hands of her husband nor did they know about her willingness to plead guilty for a sentence of life in prison. A review of similar Tennessee cases featured recently in the Tennessean demonstrates the disproportionate nature of Gaile’s death sentence. Over the past 25 years, six of the women in these cases have since received full probation or early parole and two others are serving life sentences but are entitled to parole hearings. Only Gaile Owens faces a death sentence after 23 years on death row.

Gaile suffered abuse as a child and ultimately married a man who was also abusive. Her husband not only abused Gaile sexually but also had affairs with other women that he flaunted. Despite this treatment, Gaile did her best to be a good wife and mother. She finally came to a breaking point when she discovered her husband with another woman with whom he had had an extended affair. His response to her was to curse Gaile, throw her against a car, and tell her to stay out of his business.

Gaile takes full responsibility for her actions which led to her husband's death. She understands how much this decision hurt her children and Ron Owens’ friends and family. Because of her remorse and hope to spare everyone involved the pain of a trial, Gaile decided to accept a deal offered by the District Attorney to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. However, her co-defendant would not accept a deal. Because the District Attorney wanted them to plead together, the deal was not honored, and she was forced to go to trial.

Because Gaile’s attorneys believed that she was pleading guilty in exchange for a life sentence, they did not prepare, recording only two hours of sentencing investigation—two hours to defend her life. Each of her attorneys believed the other was responsible for the sentencing hearing so neither prepared for it either, spending no time collecting records respecting Gaile’s background and character.

Her attorneys never mentioned the abuse she had suffered even though she told them about it. And, when one of her lawyers argued that Gaile’s allegations of abuse entitled her to some kind of expert inquiry, the trial court refused. With no expert inquiry, no investigation, no document gathering, and no real legal representation, Gaile Owens was found guilty and sentenced to death by a jury who did not know who she was, what she had endured, or why she did what she did.

The legal system never worked for Gaile. Not only were her own trial lawyers unprepared, but she learned during post-conviction proceedings that the prosecution had withheld critical information about Ron Owens’ affairs. The state possessed love letters between Ron Owens and his mistress but withheld these letters from Gaile, leaving her unaware of documented evidence supporting her allegations of Ron’s sexual perversions and her suspicions of his unfaithfulness.

Gaile Owens takes full responsibility for her actions and is deeply remorseful for the pain she has caused. She is seeking what she has always sought—a life sentence. Gaile does not want media attention nor does she want her children and family to be dragged through the media circus that would accompany her execution. Gaile is an exemplary inmate at the Tennessee Prison for Women where she works as a clerk.

Please write to Governor Bredesen and ask him to commute Gaile Owens’ death sentence to life. Letters should be written to Governor Phil Bredesen and sent to:

Governor’s Office
Tennessee State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243-0001

Call Governor Bredesen at 615-741-2001 or

Also, check out


Texas Judge Says Death Penalty Is Unconstitutional

Judge Kevin Fine, a Houston Judge from Harris county in Texas, a county that sends more people to death row than any other in the country, ruled in a pre-trial motion in a capital murder case on Thursday that the death penalty is unconstitutional.

Attorneys for John Edward Green Jr. argued Texas' death penalty statute is unconstitutional because it violates their client's right to due process of law under the 5th Amendment since hundreds of innocent people around the country have been convicted and sent to death row and later exonerated.

Judge Fine stated that he believes that innocent people have been executed and goes on to say:

"Are you willing to have your brother, your father, your mother be the sacrificial lamb, to be the innocent person executed so that we can have a death penalty so that we can execute those who are deserving of the death penalty?" he said. "I don't think society's mindset is that way now."

Judge Fine stated that his guidance in making a decision is what has been provided by the U.S. Supreme Court "that places a duty on trial courts to act as gatekeepers in interpreting the due process claim in light of evolving standards of fairness and ordered liberty."

Hear Judge Fine remarks here.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


Supreme Court Declines to Hear Tennessee Lethal Injection Challenge

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the challenge to Tennessee's lethal injection protocol brought by Tennessee death row inmate, Edward Jerome Harbison.

In 2007, District Court Judge Aleta Trauger ruled that Tennessee's lethal injection process did risk torture, violating Harbison's Eighth Amendment rights. She agreed that the current three drug protocol did pose "substantial risk of unnecessary pain" to the inmate. However, the Sixth Circuit Court later overturned the ruling after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Kentucky's protocol, which is similar to Tennessee's, is constitutional.

Recently, Ohio has moved to a one drug protocol that does not include the controversial paralytic, pavulon, which is currently used in Tennessee's protocol.

Read more here.