So it doesn’t matter what news station you tune into tonight, you should see a story on extending the Governor’s moratorium! Two hours ago, TCASK held a press conference with Sister Helen Prejean, along with leaders of the Nashville faith community and family members of murder victims who oppose the death penalty. The group presented a letter to the Governor signed by nearly 200 faith leaders from all across Tennessee, calling on the Governor to extend his current moratorium until a complete study of Tennessee’s death penalty system (which is broken according to the American Bar Association) can be completed.
Speaking at the press conference TCASK Executive Director Reverend Stacy Rector introduced the speakers
and laid out the frightening facts about Tennessee’s death penalty system – the lack of preservation of DNA evidence or avenues to bring meritorious claims of innocence to light for instance. Next Clemmie Greenlee, whose son of 29 was murdered in December of 2003, spoke calling on the Governor to not kill in her name! Baptist minister Mark Caldwell spoke about the universal belief in fairness, regardless of a person’s belief in the morality of capital punishment, and Reverend Sonnye Dixon (a former president of the Nashville NAACP) told Governor Bredesen that he was praying for the Governor and prayed that he could have the power to stand against the racism in Tennessee’s death penalty system, citing the large proportion of death row inmates of color that were tried by all white juries. Finally Sister Helen spoke flanked by leaders from the Catholic, Episcopal, United Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches.
It was a powerful reminder of the injustice in the death penalty system and the call for justice that is so strongly rooted throughout all faith traditions. And all four major television stations were present along with NPR, Metro Networks Radio, the Nashville Scene, and the Tennessee Register. The Tennessean conducted a phone interview with TCASK later.
So no one can say that the Governor doesn’t know how people of faith around Tennessee feel! And by taking action here
, you can let the Governor know how you feel to and really get his attention!
And check out pictures of the event (courtesy of TCASK official photographers, Harry and Karan Simpson) here.
Deadly Silence, the Phillip Workman clemency film, is now on U-Tube. Check it out here. It’s also on the NCADP Blog.
Today’s Tennessean carried an article detailing a recent scientific investigation into lethal injection. The study found that current protocols across the country may amount to torture! Has the Department of Corrections read this report? We don’t know. Are they consulting proper medical experts? We don’t know. But hopefully, with the Nashville Scene’s victory in court we will at least get to find out.
But how much does the Governor need to hear? He knows that there hasn’t been an independent and open review of execution protocols! He knows that the American Bar Association has found Tennessee’s death penalty to be so broken that they’ve called on him to extend his current moratorium! He knows that hundreds of Tennesseans have called and emailed him over the last week calling on him to extend his moratorium until a full study (like HB 2162/SB1911 calls for) can be conducted! And on Monday he’ll hear from Sister Helen Prejean and faith leaders across Tennessee, including Bishops of the Catholic and Episcopal churches, the president of the IMF, and Baptist ministers, that people of faith do not want to see a broken system continue to operate!
How much more does the Governor need to hear?
As you can imagine, things are hectically busy, as we prepare an open letter to the Governor with hundreds of endorsers across the state and a press event with Sister Helen Prejean to present the letter on Monday! All at the same time as we work to pass our study legislation and prepare for the possible execution of Phillip Workman in less than two weeks! But the media isn’t sleeping on the job either!
Today, the Nashville Scene carried a terrific story on the Governor’s current position as he refuses to extend the moratorium. Check it out.
Also, on the bright side, Tennessee has one less death row inmate today! The Court of Criminal Appeals has overturned the death sentence of Ricky Thompson. The Chattanooga Times- Free Press has the story.
And, of course, you can check out the Scene’s comment on the ruling in their favor to turn over the relevant information on the DOC’s review of the executions protocols.
And don’t forget to take action online to call on the Governor to extend the moratorium and forward the action alert to all your friends and family!
Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman of Davidson County has ruled this morning in favor of the Nashville Scene’s request for document pertaining to the development of new lethal injection prodecures by the Department of Corrections, which has so far worked to stifle the paper’s request and to refuse the public any knowledge of how the state intends to carry out executions.
The Nashville Post has the story here.
In one week, the Governor’s temporary moratorium on executions will come to an end. On that same day, the House Judiciary Committee will consider the study commission bill. And one week later, Phillip Workman will be executed, despite strong evidence that he did not fire the shots that killed Lt. Oliver and therefore is not, according to the Tennessee Supreme Court, guilty of a capital crime.
But it’s time for the Governor to act to extend his moratorium and guarantee Tennesseans a death penalty system that functions fairly and accurately! A system that does not target the poor and risk executing innocent people!
On Monday, the ABA released their report detailing the myriad flaws in the Tennessee death penalty system and calling for an extension of the moratorium until they can be addressed. You can check out a great story on WKRN here
onday, Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking
and Death of Innocents
, will be in Nashville and join faith leaders from around the state in calling on the Governor to extend his moratorium. The leaders will present a letter from theologians and pastors around the state expressing the need to maintain the moratorium.
And we’re calling on our supporters across the state to call the Governor on the phone and let him know that Tennesseans support fairness, accuracy, and justice! Over the last several nights, groups of dedicated TCASK activists have spent their evenings phone banking our supporters across the state (our database includes thousands of contacts) issuing a personal appeal to each member to call the Governor. We’ll be there again tonight and, in all likelihood, tomorrow night as well, as we work to get the word out to each and every one of our supporters that now is the time to act!
What’s been most exciting about this effort is that we’ve been able to use it as another opportunity to build leadership in the Nashville chapter of TCASK. A group of phone banking captains have each taken responsibility for recruiting callers for a different night, thus taking the onus off the state office so we can work on the legislature, faith leaders, and frame the ABA’s message! So kudos to Kathryn Lea, James Staub, and Harry Simpson (who we can also thank for the pictures) for their leadership in working to stop a broken system from moving forward!
Keep up the good work!
Read TCASK’s press release below:
HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE APPROVES STUDY OF DEATH PENALTY
Legislation Joins Growing Call to Examine Problems of Fairness and Accuracy
The House Civil Practice and Procedure Subcommittee today unanimously approved legislation introduced by Representative Rob Briley (D- Nashville) and Senator Doug J
ackson (D-Dickson) to create a commission to conduct a thorough study of the state’s death penalty system. The legislation follows a call yesterday by the American Bar Association, after a three-year assessment process of Tennessee’s capital punishment system that found deep flaws throughout the capital punishment process. The bill has co-sponsors from both parties and from East, Middle, and West Tennessee.
“The members of the committee affirmed today that Tennessee’s capital punishment system is a mess,” said Reverend Stacy Rector, Executive Director of the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing. “The death penalty in Tennessee is dangerously broken and our state representatives need to take steps to address all its problems.”
According to the ABA Assessment, the Tennessee capital punishment system suffers from serious flaws. Tennessee continues to sentence people with severe mental disabilities to death, racial and geographic disparities continue to plague the system (40% of Tennessee’s death row population is African-American), and inadequate defense counsel and flaws in preserving DNA evidence cause questions regarding the reliability of death penalty convictions. Moreover, nearly all of Tennessee’s 102 death row inmates were indigent and could not afford a lawyer at trial. There are several cases where serious questions exist regarding the factual guilt or innocence of the convicted man.
“At the very least, Tennesseans deserve to know that the capital punishment system is functioning properly,” said Rector. “The only way to begin to address it flaws and ensure that an innocent person is not executed is to conduct a full study examining every aspect of the system to ensure its reliability.”
The proposed legislation would create a balanced study commission with representatives appointed by the Governor, the Senate, and the House, as well as lawyers for both the defense and prosecution, mental health advocates, and victims advocates. The commission would make recommendations to the legislature as to how the identified problems should be addressed. The bill passed with bi-partisan support and will now head to the full Judiciary Committee.
“We cannot stop with a review of our so-called ‘sloppy’ execution protocols,” said Rector. “We must examine the entire system in order to address the wide-ranging problems before Tennessee makes an irreversible mistake.”
# # #
Today the American Bar Association released its assessment of the Tennessee death penalty system. The report details a huge number of injustices and flaws in Tennessee’s death penalty system and calls for a moratorium on executions until they can be addressed.
The assessment was conducted by a team of seven Tennessee legal experts, including a former Attorney General, a law professor, and a Federal judge, and finds that, of the 93 benchmarks set to guarantee the fair an accurate administration of the death penalty, Tennessee is only in full compliance with 7! Regardless of your feelings about the death penalty, that’s got to be a scary number for you!
The report specifically sites the Paul House
case several times and additionally finds that:
- Racial and geographic disparities plague Tennessee’s death penalty
- DNA evidence does not have to be preserved at all stages of the process
- Tennessee sentences people with severe mental disabilities to death
- Problems with inadequate defense counsel persist.
- There are inadequate mechanisms for examining claims of factual innocence.
The release of this report is extremely well-timed as we being our own push to ask the Governor to extend the moratorium. You can join in the action by clicking here to send an email and fax to the Governor calling on him to extend his moratorium, and you can forward the action page to all of your friends!
Take action now!
Today marks the seventh anniversary of a painfully significant event in Tennessee’s history: the execution of Robert Glen Coe. With Robert’s execution, Tennessee resumed a dark practice which had not been employed in this state for 40 years. I will never forget the vigil at the prison as we stood silently in the cold night air, candles lit, waiting. A thick fog began to role in just before 1:00 a.m., the hour of execution. The line of state troopers and their vehicles parked on the road surrounding us were first swallowed up by the damp cloud. Then, the fog enfolded those of us standing vigil, chilling us to the bone, and finally encased the prison.
I was reminded of the scene from the movie, “The Ten Commandments” when the angel of death passes through Egypt–the scene that night at Riverbend Prison was Biblical. I have since heard that the fog hovered over the prison all night long. And yet, as I drove home that early morning shaking and teeth chattering from cold and emotion, just a few yards past the prison, the fog mysteriously lifted. I always imagined that fog was God’s way of not having to look at what we in the state of Tennessee were doing that night a night falling during Holy Week and Passover, as we executed a severely mentally ill man.
Since then, Tennessee has executed only one other person, Sedley Alley in 2006. However, if the state gets its way, Philip Workman
will be executed on May 9, only 7 days after the state’s new execution protocol takes effect. Philip has already endured death watch three times, once coming within 45 minutes of being executed. If this execution moves forward, Philip will be forced to undergo a torturous fourth time on death watch, cruel and unusual to say the least.
Philip Workman was sentenced to death after a robbery gone bad in which a Memphis Police officer, Lt. Ronald Oliver was tragically shot and killed. However, Harold Davis, the eyewitness who identified Workman as the shooter, has since recanted his testimony, admitted that he perjured himself, passed a polygraph, and testified that he lied about seeing Workman shoot Oliver, a story corroborated by a woman with him at the time of the shooting and by crime scene photos which do not show Davis’ vehicle parked where he said it was. Furthermore, no one who was at the scene remembers Davis being there. The evidence points to an accidental shooting of Lt. Oliver by another officer as a shoot out occurred at the Wendy’s that evening.
At the time of his conviction, Philip Workman could not have been sentenced to death if he did not actually shoot the officer. A Tennessee Supreme Court Justice affirmed that if Workman did not fire the bullet, he could not be found guilty of capital murder. Though Workman does not deny that he robbed the Wendy’s restaurant, he does not believe that a bullet from his gun killed Lt. Oliver. A man should not be executed based on the testimony of a career criminal who now concedes that he lied about seeing the shoot out.
This week has been such a violent one–the tragedy at Virgina Tech, the car bombings in Baghdad. When will it all stop? Why do we insist on addressing the violence in our world with more of the same? How can the death penalty solve anything? The truth is, it can’t. How many lives will be taken before we accept the truth? Today marks a dark day in Tennessee’s history. Let us hope that May 9 does not mark another.
As we look to hire an organizer here in the TCASK state office, one of the big questions I always ask applicants is, “What is the difference between an activist and an organizer?” Basically, what is an organizer’s goal? There are a lot of possible answers, but, for me, an organizer works to make themselves obsolete by empowering the people they work with to take effective action on their own.
It’s a tough job and I don’t know how regularly we all succeed, but today, I got an email from a TCASK member that reminded me that, occasionally, we do get it right. By permission, I’m going to share the email with all of you:
Just want to thank you again for being such a good leader and organizer for those of us from Memphis who have been working to end the death penalty in Tennessee, and especially for the Justice Day on the Hill experience. Without your leadership, I probably would not have requested an appointment with my reps for last week’s Catholic Day on the Hill. I returned to Nashville with confidence to speak up about immigration reform because of my years of involvement in teaching English to immigrants and refugees. I brought two people with me from (my church) who had never done this before. (One) was especially concerned about health care and TennCare reform because of her job as a social worker with the elderly poor. And they looked to ME as if I knew what I was doing! You’ve made me a more effective advocate because I not only speak up locally now, but I am no longer timid about approaching our representatives who make policy decisions.”
TCASK works hard to build the skill set of our activists with trainings and events like Justice Day on the Hill. It’s really thrilling to know that we are succeeding!
Thank you to all the activists who are making our work a success!