Archive for March, 2007
On Tuesday it happened! From all across the state, from Memphis and McKenzie, from Cleveland and Clarksville, from Knoxville and Crossville, citizens dedicated to justice coalesced on the state capitol to bring the message to our state legislators that Tennesseans will not accept an arbitrary and capricious death penalty system!
My, albeit unscientific, count placed the number of participants at nearly 100, a huge increase from last year, coming from 25 of Tennessee’s 33 Senate districts. We had a terrific group of long-time abolitionists from Knoxville rise before 5:00am to make it to the hill for a hard day of lobbying. The wonderful Mrs. Johnnie Turner, President of the Memphis NAACP Branch, joined the group and they had a terrific impact on the Shelby County delegation of the General Assembly.
A brave and amazing core of murder victims family members joined us to tell legislators, in meeting after meeting, that killing in their names dishonors their loved ones. And Joyce House, and her daughter in law, Pam, put a human face on the issue of wrongful conviction as state policy-makers were reminded that Tennessee has been holding an innocent man on death row for 21 years!
All in all, it was a great day. We’ve come away with no less than 5 Senate Republicans committed to voting for our study bill! And new co-sponsors for both the study and the moratorium bills! So stay alert, because it’s moving day, and we’ll be looking to start the ball rolling to pass legislation in the coming weeks!
And you can check out a great photo set, including terrific pictures of our lobbyists meeting with many state legislators, courtesy of Harry Simpson, here.
Today, on the front page of The Tennessean, you can read the headline, “Despite high court ruling, man remains on death row.” In case you couldn’t guess it, the Tennesean has finally picked up the Paul House case, and Brad Schrade has done a terrific job. Now the paper of record in the state is on record as covering the Paul House case, and anyone who picks up the paper today will know that Tennessee is holding a man on death row that the U.S. Supreme Court say is innocent!
Read the whole story here.
The center table in the TCASK office is overloaded right now. It’s just covered with piles of folders, fact sheets, and appointment schedules. Why? Because on Saturday evening, thanks to some incredible TCASK volunteers we prepared folders for the over 75 registrants for Justice Day on the Hill coming from as far as Memphis and Union County! And we prepared informational folders for all the legislators who will receive visits from their constituents tomorrow. That includes 27 out of the 33 Senate districts in the General Assembly – over 80% of all the Senators! And there is nothing more powerful in moving a legislator than face-to-face meetings with their constituents.
So thank you to Amy Staples, Ann, Luke, and Kathryn Lea, Kim Harris, Harry Simpson, and Paul Fleming.
And special thanks to Amy Staples for providing printed materials for us, and to Harry Simpson for taking the pictures that you can see here.
And remember, it’s not too late to register for Justice Day on the Hill!
Just in the past few weeks bills to abolish the death penalty have been considered in four different state legislatures. While that may not seem shocking, we should consider the fact that in two of those states, the measure passed one house, and in all four, the bill was defeated by only one vote! Now that is big news.
The NCADP Blog has great coverage here.
Here in Tennessee, we have every intention of making our bills for a complete study and a moratorium on capital punishment just as real and serious an issue. And we intend to win! To do so, we need to secure bi-partisan sponsorship of the bills in both the House and the Senate. We need to continue to educate our state leaders on the deadly flaws of the death penalty. And, most importantly, we need to continue to demonstrate support for these measures in their districts!
Next week, TCASK, along with our legislative partners, will hold our second annual Justice Day on the Hill. We already have more registrants than last year, but we need more! Especially from the Brentwood area, Knoxville, and Memphis. But every person, every body, and every voice count! In other words . . .
WE NEED YOU!
TCASK kept SueZann busy during her time in Tennessee. As Alex mentioned in an earlier blog, SueZann spoke to a class at Volunteer State Community College with a number of the students signing up to learn more about TCASK. She also participated in a well attended panel at MTSU on Women and the Death Penalty System. Her co-panelist was Kelly Henry, an attorney with the Federal Public Defenders’ office who represents Gail Owens, one of two women on Tennessee’s death row. Both Kelly and SueZann did an outstanding job of helping students to better understand the shortcomings of the system and the personal stories of those caught up in it. SueZann also spoke to a Government class at David Lipscomb, particularly concerning her experience as a victim attempting to have a voice in the sentencing of her attacker.
A radio interview for Liberadio(!) was next on our list as SuzAnne had a conversation with Freddie O’Connell and Mary Mancini which will air today. Both she and Regina Hockett, mother of Adriane Dickerson, a twelve year old child who was killed in 1995 in Nashville, spoke at a fundraising event for TCASK on Friday evening. Both of these women shared their powerful stories of hurt, hope, and healing, visibly moving those who listened.
The voices of those who have suffered horrific loss and who are opposed to the death penalty are the most powerful in our movement to finally end this failed and immoral public policy. We at TCASK are so grateful for these voices, who,in spite of their pain and perhaps even because of it, are advocates for an end to a brutal policy which only causes more pain and creates more victims.
Check out photos of SueZann’s presentation at David Lipscomb
Earlier today, I had the pleasure of doing a presentation at Vol State with SueZann Bosler. SueZann is in town today and tomorrow to tell her amazing story of healing and forgiveness for the man who murdered her father, and nearly killed her, and she’ll be speaking at four or five campuses in these two days. More about SueZann’s trip will certainly be forthcoming, but during the final section, when I talked a little bit more about the facts and figures regarding the death penalty, I was explaining the exorbitant costs of the death penalty system and how any real look needs to include all the cases where a death sentence in handed down and then overturned or where a death sentence is sought but not handed down. Because those are all the costs of our death penalty system. In Tennessee we’ve handed down over 200 death sentences but only had 2 executions since reinstating the death penalty in 1977.
Lo and behold, an email arrived in my in box this afternoon, just a few hours after getting back, sending me to an op-ed in the New York Times written by a judge in New York talking about the same thing! It’s a terrific and really educational piece that I think we all need to read to understand all the costs of the death penalty. Read it here.
And I just always want to add a statement which I think we all need to remember: budgets are moral documents. When we decide to spend over $1,000,000,000.00 in Tennessee on our death penalty system, we are saying that those two executions that we’ve carried out are more valuable to us than a billion dollars of education, victim’s services, or treatment for the mentally ill. And that is the truth in dollars and sense.
Yesterday, Shelby County held two special elections to fill vacancies in the State Senate and State House. Senator Steve Cohen vacated his Senate seat to fill the 9th district in Tennessee’s delegation to the United States House of Representatives, and State Representative Henri Brooks left her seat to assume a position in the Shelby County Commission. Read more here.
In the election to fill Cohen’s seat, long time TCASK supporter, Representative Beverly Marrero, was elected to the state Senate with 56% of the vote yesterday. We are hopeful that Marrero will continue to carry the moratorium legislation that had been sponsored by Senator Shea Flinn (the temporary member appointed by the commission to fill the seat until the election). And we are delighted to have a new member elected to the Senate who is so dedicated to bringing true justice to our capital punishment system!
Congratulations, Senator Marrero!
One of the little known facts about the death penalty is that juries have to be “death qualified” meaning that jurors cannot be morally opposed to the death penalty. I was reminded of this odd legal fact by a piece in the Knoxville News Sentinel today discussing the death qualification of a jury in Sevier County.
There are a myriad of problems with this process, of course. For one thing, death qualification eliminates about a third of the population, making a “jury of one’s peers” a questionable claim. For another, death penalty trials are divided into two stages, the guilt phase and the sentencing phase. Now the guilt phase is like any other criminal trial, but, in a capital case, if the defendant is found guilty, a second stage of the trial ensues in which mitigating and aggravating evidence is presented and the jury selects a sentence. Now, the problem is that supporters of the death penalty are more likely across the board to find a defendant guilty, which already tilts the jury against the defendant.
Moreover, people of color are far more likely to oppose the death penalty, so death qualifying a jury is another way of eliminating people of color from a jury. Maybe this is one of the reasons that one in four African-American men sentenced to death in Tennessee were sentenced by all white juries. A much fairer way to conduct this process would be to have a second jury, which could be death qualified, step in for the sentencing phase, but have a truly representative jury decided guilt or innocence. Or we could realize that the death penalty is a classist, racist, expensive failure as a public policy and eliminate it all together.
Often, when we do presentations on the death penalty, someone in the crowd will respond to us by saying, “You would feel differently if someone murdered your loved one.” And, the point is well taken. I don’t know how I would feel if such a horrible thing happened to my family, but I hope that I could respond like some victims’ family members who have chosen to oppose the death penalty in spite of their pain. One such amazing person is SueZann Bosler.
On December 22, 1986, SueZann and her father, Rev. Billy Bosler, were attacked in the church parsonage by an intruder. Rev. Bosler was stabbed 24 times. SueZann, in an effort to help her dad, was stabbed in the back and the head and left for dead. While lying on the floor pretending to be dead, she heard the intruder ransack the house as she watched her dying father take his last breath.
As a Brethren minister, Rev. Bosler had been an opponent of capital punishment and once told SueZann that if murdered, he did not want the killer to receive the death penalty. On her father’s behalf, SueZann worked for 10 1/2 years to spare the life of the man who killed her father and so brutally attacked her. On June 13, 1993, her efforts were successful, and the man who committed the crime, James Bernard Campbell, received three consecutive life terms.
SueZann travels the country with other victims’ family members on the Journey of Hope as they share their stories of healing and why they oppose the death penalty. TCASK is privileged to be hosting SueZann this week, March 14-17, as she comes to Nashville to share her story. She will be speaking to groups throughout Middle Tennessee like students at MTSU, Vanderbilt, and Volunteer State Community College while also speaking at a few high schools and at a fundraiser for TCASK. If you are interested in hearing SueZann, please email us at TCASK, and we can give you more details about her speaking engagements.
In speaking of the moment when her father’s killer was given those life sentences rather than the death penalty, SueZann says, “Being able to point to him at that moment and express my forgiveness was like having a weight lifted from my shoulders.” Such a response to a violent act, not only spared a another life from a violent end, but also helped a daughter to heal.
The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported yesterday that the death sentence of James Christopher Riels was overturned by the Tennessee State Supreme Court. The Supreme Court found reversible error in Judge Chris Craft’s ruling which allowed prosecutors to cross examine Riels after he made a statement of remorse, violating his right to avoid self-incrimination. The ruling means Riels will receive a new sentencing hearing and could receive a sentence of life, life without parole, or death.
Riels has admitted to committing the horrendous murders while high on crack cocaine and vodka, becoming angry when the victims would not give him money. The story is a tragic one, and one for which Riels will most certainly receive a life sentence, at the least. However, regardless of the nature of the crime and the obvious disregard for life demonstrated in the act, killing Riels will not bring back the victims but will only further diminish the respect for life which we as a society must uphold, even in the face of great violence.
For those of us engaged in the struggle to end the death penalty, we know that the majority of those on death row, did in fact, commit these awful crimes. However, as a person of faith, I refuse to allow my reaction to violence be dictated by the violent. Instead, I choose my response to be dictated by a way which “does not overcome evil with evil but overcomes evil with good”–not an easy way to be sure, but the only way which allows for the possibility of healing and redemption.