Archive for May, 2007
Last night, a small group gathered at Holy Name Catholic Church here in Nashville for a memorial for Philip Workman, three weeks after his execution. In the service, we remembered Workman’s life and the lives he touched, as well as the life of Ronald Oliver and his family.
Reverend Joe Ingle, Workman’s spiritual advisor for 12 years, told the story of Philip’s last hours, of their crying and praying together, and of Workman calling as many of the people in his life as possible to say goodbye. Joe shared Workman’s faith that they would see each other again, and his own hurt, the hole in his life on Tuesday or Thursday afternoons when he had previously visited his friend.
Kelley Henry, Workman’s attorney, shared her disbelief that the execution had occurred. I can remember feeling the same way, simply not believing that we were actually killing Philip Workman on that night. Kelley spoke of the power of one. Workman lost at each level of appeal by only one vote. But the power of his one gesture on his last night on earth, asking to have his last meal delivered to a homeless person in Nashville, touched people across the world (it was CNN.com’s top story for two days running) and resulted in thousands of hungry people being fed in Nashville in the following nights.
I remember, as I was praying in the church, looking up at the crucifix and observing my Lord and savior suffering through another execution. Now I certainly do not equate Philip Workman, or any other human being, with Jesus Christ, and Workman was not sinless in his life (then again, neither am I), but gazing at the image of Christ killed by human hatred, looking around the room at people mourning Philip Workman, killed in vengeance for another life, thinking of Ronald Oliver and all victims of violence, I found myself wondering when we will take seriously Isaiah’s reminder that vengeance is the Lord’s and Ghandi’s words that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
A number of states are embattled right now over the future of the death penalty, and we are in a position to help quickly and easily right from our computer screens. yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for some quick-click online activism!
In North Carolina, the debate is raging over whether or not the state should reinstate its death penalty (there is currently a moratorium in place to look at execution procedures). You can click here
to vote NO in the Charlotte Observer’s
New Jersey is pushing to move from a moratorium to abolition. The Press of Atlantic City
has an online poll about whether or not they should do so. Check it out
and vote YES (scroll to the bottom of the page)!
And finally, in Illinois which has had a moratorium in place since Governor Ryan cleared its death row, there is a continuing fight to abolish the death penalty rather than bring it back. Vote against the death penalty in Illinois here
Why bother? I’ll admit that no one is going to end the death penalty based on some online polls (hardly a scientific sampling or a highly thought out policy debate), but across the country, we are seeing more and more of these polls swing to the abolition side, and, believe it or not, policy-makers look at these things. Each online poll that shows serious doubts about the death penalty in the public mind brings us one step closer to ending this policy once and for all. So exert your online democratic prerogative, and vote for an end to the death penalty today!
When Sister Helen Prejean visited Nashville a few weeks ago, she presented a lecture at Belmont University which focused upon the various ways that the arts can broaden the dialogue around the death penalty. She shared a story of college students who used the visual arts to begin such a dialogue by erecting large canvasses on campus and asking that supporters of the death penalty sign their names in red paint while opponents of the death penalty sign their names in blue. The students discovered something quite interesting. The majority of those who opposed the death penalty painted their names boldly, in large, blue letters, claiming their position proudly. However, the majority of those who supported the death penalty, tended to write their names in very small, red letters as if to hide their opinions. Perhaps this artistic dialogue demonstrates a fact that I have already observed in other contexts, that though there seems to be much support for the death penalty, supporters are often timid about revealing their opinions publicly.
I find a similar dynamic at work in the fact that we execute people in Tennessee in the middle of the night, at 1:00 a.m., when most folks are in bed and don’t have to be exposed to the gruesome ritual which is being carried out in our names. The same dynamic is also in play with the particular chemical cocktail the state chooses to use in the lethal injection protocol, which masks the dying process of the inmate so that the witnesses to the execution are not made uncomfortable. If there is nothing morally wrong with the death penalty, why do we go to such lengths to hide what we are doing?
TCASK hopes to encourage open, constructive dialogue around the issue of the death penalty. Clearly, we have a strong opinion but invite those who want to engage in conversation to do so. Our blog is one of the ways that we encourage the conversation. We do not edit the comments to our blog nor do we require that people identify themselves when they make comments. However, it strikes me that, often, those who have very strong opinions in support of the death penalty want to remain anonymous. Why is that?
I, for one, stand by my convictions and never shy away from claiming my beliefs as my own. Because I am so convinced that the death penalty is not in keeping with my Christian faith, devalues life, and is a complete failure as a public policy, I have dedicated my life to ending it in Tennessee. My hope is that all of us, regardless of where we stand on the issue, can dialogue in constructive, open ways as we struggle with the tough issues of our time.
“Son of a Gun!” Joe Sweat, the ACLU lobbyist turned to me as we stood in the Senate gallery this morning. The senate had just unanimously approved Doug Jackson’s bill to create a study commission to examine Tennessee’s death penalty. In fact, the bill had been on the Senate’s consent calendar!
Had you told me, five months ago when we began this legislative session, that the Senate would have found any bill dealing with death penalty non-controversial, I probably would have laughed. Yet, with TCASK activists from all across the state writing to their legislators during our International Abolition Day Write-a-thons, visiting on Justice Day on the Hill, and responding to action alerts with calls and emails, that’s exactly what happened.
And, of course, without the expert help of the Catholic Public Policy Commission, the ACLU, and NAMI Tennessee, we could never have recruited great sponsorships or developed the strategy that has been so successful.
Our attention now turns to the House. The study bill (HB 2162) is currently in the Study Sobcommittee of the House Finance, Ways and Means committee. It is scheduled to be heard on Wednesday morning of next week. It should then progress through the full committee and then head to the floor! We only have a few weeks left in session, but we are closing in on our legislative goals for the year!
You can take action today by calling (615.741.3830) or emailing Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry (who chairs the Study Sobcommittee) and asking her to move House Bill 2162 through her subcommittee on Wednesday!
Today, in Ohio, the execution of Christopher Newton took over an hour and a half. He was pricked with needles in both arms over 10 times during the ordeal. The Governor of Ohio refused to step in at any point during this horrendous event.
And remember, the “improved and revised” execution protocols that Tennessee is currently using are nearly identical to those used by Ohio (which has now botched two recent executions) and Florida.
You can read more from the NCADP and the ACLU.
In recent history, Tennessee has been one of the only Southern states which has not regularly carried out executions. Since 1960, Tennessee has executed three people, all since 2000. And, though the American Bar Association’s report on Tennessee’s death penalty released in April strongly recommended a moratorium on executions in the state, the Governor chose to lift the 90 day moratorium and move forward with the execution of Philip Workman. And, though the Tennessee legislature continues to move legislation creating a study commission to conduct a full and complete study of Tennessee’s death penalty system, the state has scheduled four more executions dates.
Daryl Holton is currently scheduled to be executed on September 12, 2007. E.J. Harbison is scheduled to die on September 26th. Michael Boyd has an execution date of Oct. 24th, and Pervis Payne’s date is Dec. 12th. As support for the death penalty nationwide is at an all time low, as fewer and fewer people are being sentenced to die, as states like New Jersey are moving toward the abolition of the death penalty, Tennessee revs up its execution machine.
And yet, when (not if) a study commission is in place, TCASK will be in its best position ever to demonstrate how truly broken this system is and will continue to mount public pressure to halt all executions until, at the least, the study commission can do its work. There is much work to do and many obstacles to face, but we are up for the challenge if we work together. TCASK is already planning a number of outreach and trainings initiatives for the summer to prepare our supporters for the work ahead. Stay tuned for more information about these opportunities.
Yesterday’s Bristol Herald Courier carried an interesting article on the costs of capital punishment in Tennessee. While citing the study done by the comptroller several years ago, which stated (with huge holes in its research) that each capital trial cost $46,000, the article points out that a current capital trial going on in Bristol has already cost over $85,000. And that isn’t even the total cost! Nor does it include the coming costs of the post-conviction appeals. The point is that the death penalty system costs us, as tax-payers, tons of money! The extra costs include:
- Two defense counsel required for capital cases
- Far greater investigation and expert testimony costs
- Far more court time (a two-phased trial)
- Greater costs for juries
- Vastly more motions by both sides
- Many more hours in preparation by the D.A.’s office
When we put all of this together, and include (as we should) the costs of all the trials where the death penalty is sought and not, in the end, received, we find that hundreds of millions, perhaps a billion dollars have been spent here in Tennessee on a system that has executed only 3 people in 47 years! Think of what all that money could have done for education, mental health care, or victims’ services.
During the past several weeks, with the end of the Governor’s moratorium, the tragic execution of Philip Workman, and the increasing movement of death penalty study legislation, we haven’t heard the name Paul House in the media or the general public debate on the death penalty recently. And we should, because, regardless of your opinion on capital punishment, no one should be in favor of executing an innocent man.
Well, Representative Mike Turner is having none of it! He’s already
written to the Governor asking him to do the right thing and pardon Paul House, but now he will be circulating a letter among his colleagues asking them to sign on to also call on the Governor to get an innocent man home to his mother! And you can help! Call or write to your rep
this weekend and ask them to sign on to Rep. Turner’s letter! And of course let the TCASK office know how they respond.
And anyone in Mike Turner’s district, thank him for his principled and brave fight to get an innocent man off death row and home to his mother!
Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell ruled that an autopsy could be performed on Philip Workman’s body, despite the fact that such a procedure would violate Workman’s beliefs as a Seventh Day Adventist. Judge Campbell ruled that, ““While Mr. Workman’s religious beliefs are sincere and worthy of consideration, they do not outweigh the medical examiner’s interest in confirming that the manner of death complied with the requirements of the law.” Read the judge’s entire ruling here.
Of course this means that Philip Workman’s family will have to endure one more attack on their loved one, having already seen his last wish denied, celebrations in Memphis at his death, and the horror of having their loved one executed.
I can appreciate the need to know whether or not the execution process is humane, but a better way to ensure this would have been to actually develop an execution protocol that doesn’t mirror the protocols that have already produced botched executions in other states. And we should point out that, with no medical personnel involved, even if Workman’s execution was carried out relatively “humanely” that does not ensure that another execution would be. Why not take a serious look at the very real problems with the three drug cocktail instead of simply making a few cosmetic changes and leaving it up to chance?
Also, the Nashville Scene has a terrific article of Philip Workman this week. Check it out.
Today the House Judiciary Committee, in its last meeting of the year, rolled House Bill 1099, which would have expanded the use of Tennessee’s death penalty, meaning the bill will not move again until next year, if at all! Only an hour later, the Senate Delayed Bills committee passed Senator Doug Jackson’s bill creating a broad study commission to examine the Tennessee death penalty system! The Delayed Bills Committee holds all study commission bills until the end of session to ensure that two or three commissions aren’t created to study the same thing.
But the upshot of this passage is that, since the bill was held until late in session and has now been approved by the leadership of both parties (the committee is made up of the Lt. Governor, Majority Leader, and Minority Leader) the bill bypasses the other committees and will proceed directly to the Senate floor! This means that the Senate is only one vote away from approving legislation to finally take a full and complete look at the fairness and accuracy of death penalty system. In the House, the bill (number 2162) is headed for the Finance, Ways and Means committee. It’s time we talk about the fact that the death penalty is reserved almost exclusively for the poor and that it targets people of color and the mentally ill in a disproportionate and unjust manner!
So it’s time to make a phone call to your Senator
and tell them to support Senate Bill 1911 to do a full study of the entire death penalty system.