Archive for June, 2007
Read NAMI Tennessee’s press release below:
Supreme Court Decision:
Mental Illness & Death Penalty
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) praises yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court blocking the execution of a Texas man who suffers from severe mental illness.
In Panetti v. Quarterman, the court held that an individual’s understanding of the reasons why he or she is to be executed must be considered in determining whether application of the death penalty is constitutional—rather than merely understanding the link between execution and death.
“For once, law has caught up with medical science,” said NAMI Director of Policy and Legal Affairs Ronald S. Honberg. “The circumstances of this case are tragic and no one minimizes the gravity of the crime or the suffering of the victims. However, execution of someone who is profoundly ill would only compound the original tragedy and represent a profound injustice for us all.”
“Severe delusions mean severe illness. Rational understanding and judgment are severely compromised. Application of the death penalty becomes meaningless.”
NAMI previously filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in the case with the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association.
To view the Supreme Court decision: http://scotusblog.files.wordpress.com/2007/06/06-6407.pdf. To view the NAMI amicus brief: www.nami.org/policy/panetti
Despite a long history of schizophrenia, Scott Panetti was allowed to represent himself at his trial on charges of murdering his parents-in-law 15 years ago. He frequently spoke irrationally and issued subpoenas to John F. Kennedy, Jesus Christ, and Pope John Paul II before being sentenced to death.
Continuing to experience delusions and other symptoms of severe mental illness throughout incarceration on death row, Panetti believed his planned execution was part of an evil conspiracy between Texas and demonic forces to stop him from preaching the gospel.
Locally, NAMI hopes the Tennessee Legislatures recent decision to study the death penalty in Tennessee (SB 1911 Jackson/HB 2162 Briley) will allow us to consider factors of a number of Tennessee death row inmates that suffer from severe mental illness.
“Greg Thompson, a Tennessee inmate currently on a stay of execution to determine his competency to be executed, believes he is a Klingon from Star Trek who has won several Grammy awards. He feels he is immune to electrocution because he can touch the TV and survive the shock. He believes he will go to Hawaii after his execution,” reports Stacy Rector, Executive Director of Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing (TCASK).
Sita Diehl, Executive Director of NAMI Tennessee, says, “Panetti v. Quarterman must give us pause to examine how the death penalty affects inmates with mental illness in Tennessee.”
# # #
So it turns out Fred Thompson actually is a lawyer (he doesn’t just play one on TV), but apparently that doesn’t mean that he has any real understanding of the machinations of the nation’s capital punishment system. In a recent podcast, Thompson declares that Americans usually get things right, and sites the few recent studies that purport to find that the death penalty deters murder (apparently anywhere from 3 to 18 murders per execution – how many? can a range that wide really mean anything? I guess that doesn’t matter).
Thompson rather mockingly refers to the “self-proclaimed smart kids” who have always said that the death penalty doesn’t deter murder and then says that “most studies” now find that the death penalty does protect innocent lives. Now the simple facts are that only a few studies have claimed to demonstrate any such thing, and close review and scrutiny in the academic community have debunked those few (check out a terrific summation of this work here
). Also, I’d like to point out that while apparently in Thompson’s view academics deserve only to be mocked when they are arguing against capital punishment, their findings seem to deserve the greatest weight when they support the state taking life.
Now, I am not an academic. I have a plain old bachelor’s degree, and that’s probably all I’ll ever get. I’ll certainly never go to law school or be an assistant U.S. Attorney, but I’ve got eyes and common sense, so instead of throwing bunches of independent variables into complex equations that no one who isn’t an academic can understand (which is what the Emory econometric studies that Thompson so reverently refers to do) let’s look at basic common sense.
If the death penalty deterred crime, there would be no murders in Texas! Texas has executed nearly 400 people in the past 25 years, and it does it quickly. Yet Texas’s murder rate remains high, while that of New York (which has not carried out an execution in the modern era) remains low. In fact, 11 of the 13 states that do not have the death penalty on the books have murder rates below the national average. When the death penalty was reinstated in 1972, murder rates were falling, but even as we ramped back up the machinery of death, in the 1980s and 1990s, the murder rate continued to increase. State by state studies similarly show that there is no drop in the murder rate after a state returns to executions, nor is there an increase after a state ends its use of the death penalty.
In other words, the common sense facts don’t support Thompson’s assertions. In this case, the “self-proclaimed smart kids” are free market economists who design theoretical models to show that the death penalty deters crime, when any sensible person, looking at the facts in front of their eyes knows that this is not true. In fact, when certain variables are adjusted and accounted for in one of these studies, the new equation shows that an execution causes 3 more murders!
We need to have a serious debate about the death penalty in America, but even the majority of Americans don’t believe that the death penalty deters other murderers. As a potential presidential candidate, Fred Thompson owes us a deeper and more honest analysis.
This morning the U. S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Scott Panetti, a severely mentally ill man set for execution in Texas. Panetti defended himself in his second trial dressed in a purple cowboy outfit and calling himself the Ringo Kid. He attempted to subpoena Jesus, the Pope, and John F. Kennedy for his defense. He believes that the state is trying to execute him to stop him from preaching the Gospel. Before his crime, he had been hospitalized more than a dozen times for his mental illness. You can learn more about Panetti’s case here.
The Ford v. Wainwright decision has set the standard for mental competence to be executed, put briefly, an inmate must know that he is going to be executed and must know why. This is obviously an extremely vague and narrow definition, which is long overdue for review. In a 5-4 ruling the Supreme Court has finally done just that!
We don’t have the details of the ruling yet, or how it might effect the huge number of death row inmates around the country and in Tennessee who suffer from severe mental illness. Check back with us later in the day for updates!
This morning, the Tennessee Justice Project released a new report by The Spangenberg Group detailing between funds made available to the defense and prosecution of indigent criminal cases. The report finds that the prosecution receives over $130 million per year, while the defense receives only $56.4 million – a more than 2 to 1 ratio. To make matters worse, when you take into account the in-kind support offered to the prosecution, by local, county, state, and federal support and law enforcement, the disparity is more than 4 to 1 in favor of the prosecution!
Our criminal justice system is set up on the principle that everyone is entitled to a fair trial with an adequate defense? How can we possibly claim to live up to this principle when the deck is stacked against the defense to such a serious extent?
And remember, nearly every one of Tennessee’s death row inmates are indigent. In fact the best predictor of whether or not someone accused of a capital crime will get the death penalty is not the facts of their crime, but whether or not they can afford a lawyer! This study demonstrates why this is true. The fact that such an imbalanced system can be allowed to make the ultimate decisions regarding who lives and who dies is absolutely unthinkable!
The report’s release has received state wide media attention. The City Paper
here in Nashville has the story here
, and the Knoxville News Sentinel carried it as well
, quoting the Knox County public defender as saying that his office is so overworked that the lawyers in the office have only an average of 72 minutes per case!
You can read the full study here
, and check out the Justice Project’s summary report here
‘Twas the best of times, ’twas the . . . different best of times? OK, I think that Dickens may have failed me there. Yesterday evening, Isaac and I travelled to McKenzie and then Jackson to hold strategy sessions with groups of TCASK activists in each city to plan local campaigns for municipal moratorium resolutions. Now granted, Nashville to McKenzie to Jackson to Nashville in one night is quite a trip (fortunately, I pulled seniority and Isaac did most of the driving) but it was well worth it. In both cities we met with engaged, energized, and willing folks ready to take action to engage their communities. Both meetings were great, but our groups offered different models for our organizing.
In McKenzie, our group was based mostly at Bethel College, so mostly students and professors with lots of energy ready to wake up a small, fairly rural town. So we organize to those strengths. This group is ready to form a team to canvass local businesses for moratorium resolutions, and visit local pastors to ask them to support a moratorium effort. On top of that, they’re looking to build on a new connection between the college and the local paper to gain publicity for their efforts! On the right you can see Bethel Activist Allen McQueen with Juan Melendez at last year’s student conference!
In Jackson, we were lucky enough to work with a group of seasoned activists, who have a lot of terrific connections in the city and already know the members of the city council fairly well. Rather than work on beating the pavement with this group, we focused on targeting key decision makers with a sign-on letter for faith leaders and a press conference to kick off our campaign featuring Juan Melendez, the 99th death row exoneree, on his coming visit to Tennessee.
The lesson for us, as organizers, is to find the strengths of the group that you’re working with and play to those, whether it’s youthful energy or knowledge and connections. With TCASK, we’re lucky to have both!
That’s right! In almost exactly one week from this moment, we’ll be kicking off the TCASK Organizer’s Training Institute. We’ve been working hard bringing in guest facilitators and designing a fun, active, and incredibly enriching weekend to build the skills in our activists to be effective community organizers against the death penalty in their communities. And it’s free!
Do you want to be more active against the death penalty but don’t know how?
Do you want to build power in your city to move our public officials?
Do you just not know how to start?
Then TOTI is for you! We are almost full for the weekend, but we still have room particularly for folks from West Tennessee or Chattanooga to join us. So come and get empowered! You won’t regret it!
Yesterday, Rep. Mike Turner’s press conference was a success–the media coverage was great as well.
The story was covered across the state by numerous media outlets. News coverage highlights included this story in the Knoxville News Sentinel that garnered some great quotes. Rep. Eric Swafford, Joyce House’s representative, said “I’ve read the court case. I’ve looked at the evidence. Paul House would not have been convicted,” said the Pikeville Republican, who also signed the petition. “It’s never too late to do the right thing.”
Also, Rep. Gerald McCormick, a Chattanooga Republican who signed the petition, said he supports capital punishment but not in this case. “Only for the guilty,” he said. “Something went wrong here, and I hope the governor will consider the merits of the case.”
National media coverage included coverage by USA TODAY found here.
We also had visual media coverage including News Channel 5’s coverage that displayed our awesome Paul House t-shirts. The article can be found here. Even more reason to buy these amazing shirts!
Viewing the previous posts, you might have noticed that the TCASK activists at the press conference were wearing some pretty awesome t-shirts. That’s because our new Free Paul House t-shirts arrived in the office and are available to you now! We want people on the streets to start seeing this message everywhere, so get your t-shirt today and support Paul and Joyce House!
I wish we had high tech ordering mechanisms, but, unfortunately, we don’t, so to order your t-shirt just send a check to TCASK at:
508 Main Street
Nashville, TN 37206
T-shirts are $15 which includes are shipping and handling costs to send them to you. They are $10 in the office for sizes S,M,L, or XL and $12 for XXL (blame our printer, they charge us more for these).
I think they’re pretty cool, so we need to get out and show ‘em off!
Today as I entered the office at 8AM, I was delighted to be in the presence of Joyce House for the second time since I have moved to Tennessee. She is a beautiful and composed woman amidst the pain and suffering that goes with being separated from the child she gave birth to. It was around my age that Paul was stripped away from life as a free man and was thrown into prison, his home for half of his life. I can’t begin to fathom the anguish and outright depression my mother would undergo if for 20+ years our communication were limited to conversation with glass separation and collect call telephone calls.
At the press conference, Joyce spoke eloquently on behalf of her son and her wish to bring him home. Despite her enthusiasm, there is the reality that Paul is a very sick man and we were reminded of this when Joyce recounted her last visit. She stated, “I saw Paul this past Sunday and as usual he asked me why I am still in here. But, as I was readying to leave, he confessed to me something I had not heard from him before. He said, “Mom, I think I’m going to die in here.””
When I showed up this morning, the first thing I brought up in conversation was this awesome hot pot that my mom had just sent me because she knew of my love for tea. The bond between mother and son goes beyond love; it is a connection between body and soul–one that can never be broken. Joyce then stated with her knowing eyes, “I gave my Paul one of those too.” In that moment, I was heartbroken, because even though the love that I share for my mom and Joyce for her son is equitable, my ability to see or talk to my mom is unfettered.
Governor Bredesen, why is Paul House still in prison? This question will trouble me until the day that pardon is signed. Furthermore, it is a question the Governor has failed to truly answer. It is our job as death penalty abolitionists, and simply fair and just minded citizens of Tennessee and the United States to force the Governor to answer this question and in doing so, allow him to realize that freeing Paul House is the right thing to do.
You can hear the entire press conference on this terrific blog post by Mary Mancini at Liberadio.
Today Representative Mike Turner (D- Hickory Hollow) held a press conference to call on Governor Bredesen to free Tennessee death row inmate Paul Gregory House, who has been on Tennessee’s death row for 22 years. Representative Turner presented a letter signed by more than 30 members of the Tennessee General Assembly, both Democrat and Republican, calling on the Governor to issue a full pardon to House.
“The United States Supreme Court has said that no reasonable jury would convict this man if they looked at all the evidence now available in the case,” said Turner. “We should do the right thing and get this man home to his mother instead of letting him die in prison. Tennessee is an honorable state, and we’re better than that.”
House has been diagnosed with progressive Multiple Sclerosis. He is confined to a wheelchair and his health continues to degrade. There is deep concern that he could die in prison. House was convicted of the murder of Carolyn Muncey in 1985, but since that time DNA has evidence conclusively proved that House did not commit the rape which the state presented as the theory of the crime. Moreover, new witnesses have come forward testifying that Muncey’s husband confessed to killing his wife, and forensics evidence has demonstrated that blood found on House’s pants did not come from Carolyn Muncey’s body but rather from vials of blood taken from her body after death. In June of 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that House met the standard of actual innocence, i.e. that “no reasonable juror would lack a reasonable doubt” in the case.
Joining Representative Turner were Joyce House, Paul House’s mother, and Charlie Strobel, a representative of Murder Victim’s Families for Human Rights whose mother was murdered.
“On my last visit, Paul told me that he thought he would die in prison, and I told him no you won’t!” said Joyce House, “Governor Bredesen, just imagine what you would feel as a parent if your son was in the same situation. Please, Governor, send my son home to me.”
Turner plans to present his letter to the Governor with a delegation of his fellow legislators in the coming weeks. He hopes that such a broad spectrum of legislators will convince the Governor to closely examine the case and decide to take action.
“I believe that the Governor is a fair man,” said Turner. “He and his wife have been terrific champions of victims’ rights over the years. In this case Paul House is a victim.”
# # #