WORSE THAN TEXAS
l stole the title from the Economist because it triggers an instant reaction of shock and disbelief. How can little Alabama be worse that the mighty state of Texas? Mlghty at least when lt comes to the death penalty?
Well, we are worse than Texas when it comes to number of death sentences, and we are not speaking per capita. This is not new, so why has our state suddenly made headlines with articles proliferating and garnering attention nationally and state-wide?
In July The Equal Justice lnitiative, which under the dynamic leadership of Bryan Stevenson is the authority on the death penalty and criminal justice Issues in our state, published a report on jury override. Jury override is the reason why we send more people to death row than any other state. The explosive findings of blatant racism, substantiated by direct quotes from judges and figures of the victim’s race, as well as the impact of election year politics on judicial override shocked the world.
Much careful research went into this paper. Obviously, the resulting publicity is a gift to our small state, which so often gets overlooked by the national media and the public at large when lt comes to the death penalty. It is up to us not to waste this gift and with your help we won't. Let's get the word out to our legislators and the public! We have all the facts and figures right here in thls newsletter to make this a relatively simple task.
You can find the Jury Override Report at www.eji.org , and a thoughtful overview of the findings by our Editor, Jeff Rieber in this edition. You will also find the graph by our Advisory Board member Dr. Dale Wisely, which shows that while nationally execution rates decreased, they increased ln Alabama. And finally, there are the graphs from the poll done by the Capital Survey Research Center, to reassure politicians and judges that supporting a moratorium is not a kiss of death with the voter. All of this is right here in this edition or at www.phadp.org.
l called the Report a gift, as are the Wisely graph and the poll, but I think a better term would be a toolbox with well designed and crafted tools. A gift can be put on a shelf to be admired but tools are made to be used. As we thank the authors for the tools, let’s use them for what they were intended, and perhaps one day Alabama will not be worse than Texas.
GREETINGS FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK:
In the modern death penalty era, elected AL. judges have discarded 107 jury verdicts of life without parole and, instead, imposed death sentences. Alabama has 4.5 million people, yet,last year we imposed more new death sentences than Texas which has 24 million. Texas...doesn‘t have override.
Consider these facts: 1) Many are not aware that all capital jurors in AL. are DEATH QUALIFIED. This means that every juror is asked if they are willing to impose the death penalty. If they‘re against the death penalty, they are summarily removed from serving on the jury. 2) In Alabama, unlike most states, the law does not require that a jury be unanimous in order to give a verdict of death. 3) Alabama judges are elected, again unlike most states, and are therefor subject to political pressures involved in getting elected and staying elected.
These are just 3 of many examples of reasons why Alabama's capital punishment system is already very heavily skewed in favor of the death penalty as opposed to life without parole. Allowing judges to override jury verdicts of life is just adding insult to injury. It is, literally, overkill. Override is overkill.
In this publication, our general policy is to abstain—from pleading our individual cases. This forum is not intended for that. As a result we usually speak on issues in a broad overview method. This has the benefit if being inclusive but it also has the drawback of omitting the personal examples of issues that might serve to better make a particular point. In illustration, I found out after my trial that I was the judge's first capital case. She had just been elevated from traffic court.
Judges like to say, in explanation of override, that they have much capital trial experience which jurors don't have, so they are the better arbiters of appropriate sentences. My case puts the lie to that because my judge and my jury experienced their first capital trial together, yet, the one person who had a personal stake in the outcome was allowed to throw away the considered judgment of the 12 jurors and, instead, impose her own will. If she wanted to keep her new job, she had to prove that she was tough enough to roll with the “big dogs" and work within the Good ol' Boy network that still pervades the Alabama system.
It saddens me to report that, since the last newsletter, 2 men were executed, one committed suicide and Alabama has set yet another execution date. Jason Williams was executed 5-19-11. Eddie Powell was executed 6-16-11. William "Corky" Snyder took his own life 7-12-11 and Board member Derrick Mason has an execution date set for 9-22-11. Derrick's fight is our fight, and it isn't over, by a long shot. PLEASE lend your help by contacting the Governor and expressing your abhorrence of state killing. Help keep HOPE alive.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND MAJOR FINDINGS
No capital sentencing procedure in the United States has come under more criticism as unreliable, unpredictable, and arbitrary than the unique Alabama practice of permittlng elected trial judges to override jury verdicts of We and impose death sentences. (EJI Report on Judge Override in AL)
Tis the season to be jolly! Oh wait, wrong Season!:) I apologize for my confusion but the NFL (National Football League) had me on panic for a while, thinking there would be no pro-football this season. Whew! we barely made it through. Now that I am on the right track... Are You Ready For SOME FOOTBALL??!! :)
If you want to know something about me, know this...I LOVE football. I mean, I love sports period, but football is my overall favorite. I would sit and watch peewee football on t.v. if the little fellows could just get enough sponsors:) At least, then I wouldn't have to worry about the season being canceled because the players and owners are fighting over money. No, the biggest things those little fellows are concerned with are the game, and are they getting ice—cream or pizza after the game:)
I've pretty much played sports all my life, but my true love has always been football. There's just this feeling you get when you strap on that helmet, the other pads, and go crash into someone that either has the ball or is trying to get the ball. I tried my hand at baseball. However, I retired from that sport quickly, after going up to bat and then finding myself being awakened in the dug—out by cold water running on my head. It appears (from what people at the game told me. smile) this left—handed giant of a girl (young lady) threw a fast—ball so hard that it hit me in the head, cracked the helmet I was wearing and knocked me out. SHE WINS:) That was the day that my retirement from baseball began. Oh, don't think she forced me out of the game. I left because I didn't think it was fair. If she got to throw baseballs at me, I should have been allowed to put my football gear on and go tackle her.(smile) I'm kidding - I'm kidding! I was ready for football season anyway! (wink-wink)
Well, as you can see, I'm feeling lots better since I know there will be NFL games:) Just for the record, or in case someone asks you...I am an Oakland Raiders (NFL), and Michigan Wolverine (college) football fan, and that's just the way it is!! :)
Isn't Life Good
* Jason Williams was executed 5-19-11.
* Eddie Powell was executed 6-16-11.
* William "C0rky" Snyder took his own life 7-12-11.
* PHADP Board of Directors member Derrick Mason has an execution date set for 9-22-11.
* PHADP has a new logo, a totally redone web site (phadp.org) and we are asking our supporters to "LIKE" us on Facebook.
* Esther attended the Ad Hoc planning meeting, in Birmingham, with members of JAM and Mary's House.
* It is our pleasure to welcome Claudia Whitman and Tom Duley to our Advisor Board.
* Esther attended the DPIC communications seminar July 16th in Birmingham.
* AL. Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb has resigned from her position shortly after having spent more than any other State judge in an election campaign. She was the only Democrat
on the AL Supreme Court. She has already been replaced by a Republican.
* On October 15th, Esther has a speaking engagement at Samford University for the Amnesty International students group.
* The Alabama Arise annual meeting is scheduled for 9-17-11.
* Happy 100th birthday to Ms. Amelia Boyington Robinson, one of Alabama's own Matriarchs of the civil rights movement. Esther was pleased and honored to attend the celebration.
* In her capacity of chair of the Moratorium Committee, Esther will attend the quarterly meeting of the AL NAACP, in Huntsville, where she will give an activities update.
* Esther recently gave an extensive radio interview with Dave Person of WEUP radio, in Huntsville. She spoke on Derrick Mason's execution date and the issues involved in his case, as well
as the general issues of lethal injection and the Alabama Capital system as a whole.
* The Bullock County branch of the NAACP has asked Esther to come and speak on the moratorium initiative.
Execute Justice Not People!
When I was sentenced to death, I was told that this day is the first day of the rest of my life by the District Attorney. As he walked out of the room someone asked me how does it feel to get the death penalty? there was alot that I wanted to say but, I just stood there in a catatonic state.
As I arrived at Holman and walked down the hallway I said to myself so this is what they mean by walking through valleys of the shadow of death. All I could think about was how the people before me who had to walk down this long hallway must have felt.
When I got to the cell block I was put in a cell that is five feet wide and eight feet long. A gentleman asked me my 4 name. I told him my name and sat on my bed. He came back and he gave me a Bible and asked me, did I believe in God.
I was looking for a place where the walls dripped with melancholy. I was asked to go to church and I said I didn't know God came to deathrow. what I found was nothing like what I thought. All the horror stories I heard weren't true. No one was running around like an animal trying to kill anyone. What I learned was just because the prison doors are slammed shut the person doesn't lose the qualities that make them human. It is then when they need them most.
I will never forget the date March 20,1992. My first execution as I stood in my cell and looked through the bars out the window. I watched the prison guards take Larry Heath to the execution chamber. The loud noise made by the generator used to power the electric chair. And the smell of burnt flesh and hair that morning. The bleach that was used to try and cover the smell only made it worse. Tears rolled down my face for a person I had never known. That was a human who was murdered by the State of Alabama. And the people in charge said that killing is wrong and to show that killing is wrong they are going to kill anyone charged with killing someone.
When I heard that I was very confused too. If we live life in an eye for an eye fashion, the world would be blind. Murder is wrong no matter who is doing it.
I've been watching the coverage on the London riots for the past few days, and can't help but think to myself that this could well be us. I mean, think about it for a minute, We have the same problems they have, The same disregard for the poor that they have, and the same irresponsible Government that shows no regard for the people they are sworn to help.
In my opinion, too many people see the catalyst as the cause. Too many focus on the fools who loot rather than thu furious who are out to effect real change. The shooting by the police wasn't the cause of the riots, it was just the straw that broke the long burdened back. A back that carries a Nation, no matter what the Government chooses to believe.
Anyone who watched the footage from those riots not only saw the young trouble makers that the media latched on to, they also noticed the grown men and women who were expressing their
discontent with signs and fists. The British Government has failed it's poor. It has turned it's back on the people who make their world work. The people who build their cars, their houses, sew their clothes, and grow their food. The people that they can't live without, and they are paying for that betrayal.
We (the U.S.) have, like Britain, turned our back on our poor. We have cut their jobs, cut their aid, cut their hope for a future, so the rich can stay rich. And, like the Brits, it's only a matter of time before the back breaks and our Government reaps what it has sown. The signs are already emerging. State governments under fire, Senators under siege. The poor are pissed and they will have their due. They will have what was taken from them and they will have it soon. Take note, Senators. Europe is on fire, and without change, we will soon learn how to burn as well.
You may have heard, at times, that life is like a puzzle. Well, if you haven't, maybe it's just one of my personal analogies I often come up with when going through stages in life:) I recall, as a youth, visits to an elderly baby sitter's home. She would always have jigsaw puzzles placed on her coffee table. I could always look forward to the boxes of puzzles to be set out for me. I would sit for hours, trying to piece together those puzzles, many times not finishing a single one by the time I was picked up to go home.
When I think about it now, I am still trying to piece together jigsaw puzzles. Throughout my life, I have been putting together the pieces. Some puzzles I have managed to finish, while yet others are still a work in progress. I can, at times, see the finished product in my mind, but as I work towards completion of one puzzle in life, it seems another is placed before me, jumbled on top of another in a pile of bright and dimmed colors.
My revelation is, my life is a jumble of rounded and jagged edges, and throughout it, I must constantly fit the pieces together. Taking the good with the bad, while hoping the finished product is as I imagined, freedom!
Dear Friends and family,
How is the heat of summer treating you? I can assure you that summer on the row gives one a whole new respect for our forebearers and what they must have endured. There is no air conditioning on the row but, we rely heavily on the fans in our cells during this time of year. A cool moving breeze and the shortest of rain showers has my utmost appreciation during this time of year and I have to say the Creator knew what He was doing when He created them.
A Christian brother and I were discussing the various church services on the row and the attendance at such services. We also spoke of our Muslim brothers for whom this month signifies Ramadan. Later in the evening this brother sent me a slip of paper that read simply, "Proverbs 16:1—7." So, I read Proverbs 16:1-7.
I mention this because lately we have been experiencing a rash of "mental and emotional turbulence" on the row. My brother Derrick Mason had an execution date set for September 22nd. I have known Derrick since 1994. We were in the Madison County jail together. We shared a cell together for several months including during his trial. We know one another's folks. I ache for what Maggie and Moses must be going through. It only adds to what I feel seeing Derrick going through this.
Knowing that I have little to offer him other than my friendship and prayers. Knowing I am helpless to stop what the State is planning for him. Knowing that my friendship is powerless against the State's lust for vengeance.
All things considered, the temperature affects temperament, and the complete lack of physical solitude and privacy combine to bring an ill wind to the surface, especially when a brother that you are so close to has a date set. Add to this loneliness, separation from family, bad news from the courts, and the ever present reminders that we are the "condemned" in the minds of man, and sanity and reason blur.
Although, Derrick and I face similiar obstacles and often face them together, there are internal struggles different to the individual that each of us faces, and faces for the most part alone. On occasion we will allow someone a glimpse of this struggle or we will receive a word or thought of encouragement from someone who may or may not know of our struggle. So, with the heat and everything else going on, it was nice to receive the slip of paper with Proverbs 16:1-7 written on it. That it meant something to my Christian brother and that he sent it to me. Sanity insurance if you will.
Proverbs 16:1—7. Something to let your mind ponder. Sure beats the heat, that is for sure.
Keep Hope Alive!
Ronald Smith Jr.
Editor/ "A Christian Perspective"
My Outlook On Life
Life is an obstacle course full of ups and downs. More downs than ups for me thus far at least. Although the bottom seems so cruel and so far away from the top, I prefer the bottom over the top. Knowing that from the bottom there is only up. I can reach the top on my own, and have whatever position I obtain taken away from me one day. Or I can wait for God to take me from the pit and place me high upon a rock (the top), knowing that whatever He gives me only He can take it away. Also, knowing and believing that whosoever the Son sets free is free indeed. This is my outlook on life. .
I'm now here at Holman. And while I've only been here a couple of months, I've learned something so valuable. I'm 26 yearsold, have been around the world to different countries, so I've seen alot of things. However, it took me coming to Holman to learn a lesson that I already knew. I won't tell you what it is. I challenge you to read it for yourself; Matthew 7:3. If we as a whole practice this day in and day out, I'm more than sure we will become a better society.
Courtney Larrell Lockhart
Greetings Dear Readers,
This time around I'm going to share with you my thoughts on the financial crisis. Many times, I'll be honest with you, I can't tell who is right, Democrats or Republicans, the donkey or the elephant. It is clear that we as a country are walking a kind of tight rope right now. We just recently had a dip in the stock market a few days ago. All the so-called experts are saying that we need to get our fiscal house in order. It is said that our credit rating could drop from AAA, which is evidently is not at all a good thing. It would effect our ability to borrow.
The last thing that I want to see is my country have a crash. But from these events I'm hoping that the powers that be would reconsider their staunch support for this death system. Consider these facts: I was watching a program on PBS about Prison Reform. This is what it cost the Florida Department of Corrections. In all they have 101,000 inmates in 150 facilities at a yearly cost of 2.8 Billion dollars! Any suggestions?
Right now, California is seriously considering getting rid of their death penalty. Since their reinstatement of the death penalty, they have killed 13 people at a cost of 4 Billion dollars (to fund the whole death system). Per execution that breaks down to 300 million dollars an execution. This comes at a time when California has to let some people go due to excessive overcrowding. This order came from the U.S. Supreme Court, so it must be carried out. Their health care system is taking a hit, so I wonder will the California legislature find a better way to administer the next 4 billion dollars. Where are the wise men and women amongst us?
In my State of Alabama, we are having a money problem. In a town called Thomasville, they are very close to shutting down their small hospital due to funding problems. There simply isn't enough money to go around. As a country we have got to find better uses for our money.
Is It Justice or Just Us?
Today I read an article about a white man in America who went to convenient stores killing people who he thought were Muslims post 911. I also heard a black man say, "that he would be afraid if he got on a plane and saw Muslims getting on it too." I ask myself why, when any other race besides Europeans in America gets this type of treatment, in general, when one group of people do something horrible. Why weren't people saying, "I'm afraid to go into that building because I just saw a white man go in there, after Timothy McVeigh did the Oklahoma bombing or I'm scared to go to the mall because I just saw two white teenagers with trench coats on, after the deadly mall killings." I am a Muslim and a black man. I watch the T.V. show called, "What would You Do?"
And this show presented the big difference when an African—American person does something wrong versus an European—American. I don't have to tell you who got the worse treatment. The media, radio, T.V. shows, magazines, etc. all play a big role in assassinating the characters of other races, but uplift the European race. People's minds can easily be poisoned and manipulated like this. I'm not a racist and I believe in justice. I'm just tired of it being just—us. A judge in Alabama said he sentenced a white guy to death because he `had sentenced 3 black guys prior, so he won't look like he is discriminating. You do the math.
Meaning of Redemption
For some months now I have struggled with the meaning of redemption. It is a word you would maybe often hear in the church pews or even on the television screen. The definitions I keep running into are to buy back, convert, reclaim, fall from sin and make up for faults. After discussing this with a couple brothers here on the row, I had not arrived at the meaning I was in search of. Maybe it is my determination to be right most of the time, or maybe each of our understandings of redemption are one and the same and each individual is in search of a different sense of the word.
My understanding of the word takes me back to my childhood. Me and my friends often played football in the street. We would have neighborhood teams, and if you were messing up the plays, you would find yourself kicked off the team. Which again, with my determination to be right most of the time, I would find myself off the team quite often. And yes, eventually I would make my way back onto the team by showing I could play better and the toughest of all, accept that I maybe can't be right most of the time. (smile)
This leads me back to life as I know it now. I desire to buy back the trust of the community, reclaim my position in society and make up for my faults. This all sounds like a search for redemption to me! The struggle is that I've been condemned to die, kicked off society's team and told I'm unfit to live. So, does not society have an important role in my search for redemption? To truly find it, must not I be given the opportunity to show that I am worthy? It is food for thought.
In Love and Peace,
Not Guilty! No matter which side hears these words it is going to stir emotions one way or another but I'm truly glad that emotions didn't decide the fate of Casey Anthony. I'm not a prude. I understand a little precious, beautiful little girl's life was taken away. How? We still don't know. When? We never found out exactly. And these are some of the questions that stirred the milieu outside. Their emotions had taken over their lives. I wonder who was watching their kids while they were outside the courthouse screaming, "crucify her! crucify her" Casey can be thankful that her judge didn't instruct the jury to weigh the case based solely on their emotions and not the evidence. I was especially struck by the comments of the African American community who lashed out and said, "she got away with murder." Especially when they have seen or heard about countless black men sent to prison and death row. Not just by an emotional mob but, more importantly by overzealous prosecutors. Prosecutors who are immune from prosecution, for sending a man wrongfully to prison or deathrow. There is no outcry over this injustice. No one is banging down the prosecutors door asking why? Nor are they threatening to kill the jurors who sentenced an innocent man to death. No one has cried out to put a Governor in prison who refused to pardon innocent men who spent decades wrongfully imprisoned, but are more willing to pardon those they know to be guilty.
A few weeks ago I watched a special with Diane Sawyer about this little girl now a woman who was kidnapped and raped constantly over an 18 year span of time. And do you know that the State of California settled and gave her 15 million dollars for their failure to monitor a Registered and known rapist. Now go to any Innocence websites and see how much the 200 plus men received for spending decades of their lives falsely imprisoned by a State. And for the mob outside the courtroom of the Casey Anthony trial, look to see what State leads them all in released exonerated men. Yes, Caylee deserves justice, but not based on emotions alone. So, as long as we have this fallible judicial system, driven by fallible prosecutors to please the mob, I too am emotional.