Archive for February, 2009
“When Gov. Martin O’Malley appeared before the Maryland Senate last week, he made an unconventional argument that is becoming increasingly popular in cash-strapped states: abolish the death penalty to cut costs.”
Yesterday’s New York Times contained an article titled “Citing Cost, States Consider End to Death Penalty.”
Read the article by CLICKING HERE and be sure to check out the graphic.
“The economic realities have forced even longtime supporters of the death penalty, like Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, to rethink their positions.
Mr. Richardson, a Democrat, has said he may sign a bill repealing capital punishment that passed the House last week and is pending in a Senate committee. He cited growing concerns about miscarriages of justice, but he added that cost was a factor in his shifting views and was “a valid reason in this era of austerity and tight budgets.”
My favorite highlight:
“Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, an organization in Sacramento that works on behalf of crime victims, called the anticipated savings a mirage. He added that with the death penalty, prosecutors can more easily offer life sentences in a plea bargain and thus avoid trial costs.
But Eric M. Freedman, a death penalty expert at Hofstra Law School, said studies had shown that plea bargaining rates were roughly the same in states that had the death penalty as in states that did not.”
Here in Tennessee, we are spending millions on our death penalty system while we have viable alternatives like life without parole and life in prison (51 years before parole eligibility). Like other states, we are in a budget crisis and the death penalty is a black hole of spending that will continue to cost this state millions of taxpayer’s dollars.
Dianne Rust-Tierney, Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty had an excellent article published in The Huffington Post titled “We, Too, Are Abolitionists: Black History Month, Slavery, and the Death Penalty.”
Read it by CLICKING HERE.
“If a slave killed his master or another white person, or raped a white woman, the penalty was automatic death. If a white person killed or raped a slave, the punishment might be imprisonment or a fine. Most crimes by whites against slaves went unpunished. The laws carried the clear, if unstated, message, that some lives are worth more than others. This is still true today, as there are more people of color sentenced to death whose victims were white than the reverse.”
“Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, said, “As one whose husband and mother-in-law have died the victims of murder and assassination, I stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offenses. . . An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life. Morality is never upheld by legalized murder.”
On February 19, the Tennessee Committee to Study the Administration of the Death Penalty met for the final time. Along with the legislative recommendations on which it had already decided, the Committee voted 12-2 to issue a report highlighting the issues it covered and summaries of the testimony received.
Sadly, the two votes against this final report came from the Attorney Generals representative, Elizabeth Ryan, and the District Attorneys’ representative, Al Schmutzer. In fact, Ms. Ryan first objected to the Committee’s legitimacy in even meeting to discuss a report, claiming that the Committee officially ceased to exist in December 2008. After Senator Jackson explained that the Clerk of the Senate was clear that such a meeting to finalize a report is a common occurrence for study committees and that the Committee was well within its rights to meet, she then insisted that any report issued by this Committee consist of only the language of the five or so recommendations voted on by Committee in earlier meetings. In other words, she objected to any written record of the testimony received over the 14 months of the Committee’s work.
And, frankly, if I was Ms. Ryan, I would object as well. For Ms. Ryan and the AG who are charged with supporting this broken system, the inclusion of such testimony is a real problem since almost no testimony received in 14 months supports the fairness or accuracy of Tennessee’s current system. In fact, as someone who attended every Committee meeting and all but one subcommittee meeting, I heard absolutely NOTHING which indicates a system that works. Even those who support the death penalty acknowledged the issues of excessive costs, delays, and lack of adequate defense for those on trial for capital murder. The real disagreement among Committee members was not the fact that grave problems exist but how to address those problems. And, from the DA and AG reps, maintaining the status quo in some form continued to be the most common suggestion.
Though the Committee did not address a number of issues, the issues which were covered revealed a system which is not only unfair but does risk the execution of an innocent person. And of course, as I sat there listening to the discussion on Thursday, my eyes welled up on several occasions because I couldn’t help but think of Steve Henley, for whom this report comes too late. I got very emotional again as I thought of Steve’s lack of adequate defense at his trial, the fact that Steve did not have the resources to pay for a qualified lawyer, the fact that Steve’s death sentence was secured based on the testimony of a drug addict co-defendant who had implicated himself and made a deal, the fact that even as he lay strapped to a gurney about to endure a protocol which has not yet been found to be constitutional by the 6th Circuit, he maintained his innocence. These facts haunt me and will haunt me for the rest of my life. How could we execute Steve Henley under such circumstances?
Charles Strobel, Committee member representing Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, wrote an editorial which appeared in Monday’s Tennessean stating why this state needs a moratorium on executions until these issues of fairness and accuracy can be addressed. Such a moratorium comes too late for Steve, but not for the other 87 people on Tennessee’s death row and for the citizens of this state who are concerned about fairness and justice.
I heard from Steve’s family yesterday about how upset they are to learn about this Committee’s findings now, given what just happened to Steve. How do you explain to a traumatized family that the state didn’t see fit to give your son, your daddy, your brother, 30 more days of life in order to hear what this Committee had to say but instead executed him just two weeks before the Committee issued its findings?
Now, the legislature must act on the recommendations of this Committee if Tennesseans are to have any confidence that the lawmakers are even attempting to remedy the problems. If not, justice cannot and will not occur in Tennessee–not for victims’ families who cannot be sure that the right person is held accountable for the murder of their loved one nor for defendants whose lives are on the line.
Read Charles Strobel’s editorial here.
“DNA from key evidence in a Tennessee woman’s slaying does not match the man who spent more than two decades on death row for killing her, according to new FBI lab tests.”
Read more from this AP article by CLICKING HERE.
Once again, new evidence has been presented further indicating that Paul House did not murder Carolyn Muncey. The state plans to move forward with the trial. District Attorney Paul Phillips had this to say about the new evidence. “What the evidence would suggest to us is there may have been other people involved in the crime as well as Mr. House,” he said.”
When will Phillips admit that he convicted the wrong man? The state of Tennessee has already taken half of Paul’s life and yet it continues to press on with this trial wasting taxpayer’s money. Even more troubling is that the state had this evidence months ago and did not turn it over.
Federal Public Defender, (Stephen) “Kissinger says the state has also delayed turning over evidence reports.”
“Basically they’re stringing this out, just hoping they find some evidence House did it because they don’t have any now,” Kissinger said.
Paul House’s retrial has been extended once again. Now, the House case is set for June 1, 2009, almost a year after he was released from prison on bail. Thanks to an anonymous donor, House was released but has been on house arrest since that time.
Paul House was convicted of the 1985 murder of Carolyn Muncey. In 2007 DNA evidence brought to question House’s participation in the tragic killing. The trial was set for last October, then reset to March 3o and now the defense has requested a continuance in order for them to perform further DNA tests on the evidence including: fingernail clippings, a cigarette butt, and a pair of jeans. This evidence has been in the hands of prosecution for years and now the defense is taking the next 45 days to test and evaluate the evidence in order to rule out all past suspects in the crime, as well as, Paul.
TCASK has worked closely with Paul and his family over the past few years as they continue to struggle to secure his innocence and freedom. We are hopeful that this further testing brings good news for Paul House but recognize that the court ruled for a timely retrial in 2007 and the preparation process is continually lengthening the resolution to this crime.
Knoxville WBIR.com’s Story on the extension: Click Here
I have not had the time nor the energy to attempt to write anything here before today. The past week has been one of the most painful and most holy of my life, and it will take me a very long time to deal with all that has happened. Looking back, I guess that I lived in denial for a very long time about Steve’s possible execution. When you have known someone for 10 years, it just seems too incredible that one day, the state will strap him down to a gurney and kill him.
In the days leading up to the execution, I continued to believe that someone would intervene…the courts, the Governor, someone would look at all the serious problems with this case and stop this execution. But, no one did. And so I was faced with helping my friend to prepare for his death and helping his suffering family to endure it.
As most of you have probably now read, Steve was the most at peace I had ever experienced him in the hours prior to his execution. We spent the hours from 9-11 p.m. sharing stories, talking about God’s presence in suffering, reading Scripture, praying, and sharing the Lord’s Supper together. When it was time for me to go, we tried to hug through the bars that separated us, and I gave him a kiss on the cheek. I told him that God had given me some measure of peace by the way he was facing his death, and he told me not to let this whole ordeal scar me.
Then, a few hours later, I watched my friend attempt to lighten the mood in the execution chamber as he made a joke about how pitiful we all looked and stuck his tongue out at his kids. After his heartfelt words about his concern for the Stafford family, for the pain Fred and Edna Stafford has gone through, and after again, asserting his innocence as he had for 23 years, Warden Bell said, “Proceed.”
Steve lifted his head and said, “I feel it coming.” As his head feel back and he began to make a loud snoring sound, I grabbed his sister sitting next to me and reached my hand over her to put it on his son’s shoulder. I closed my eyes tightly and the words of the Lord’s Prayer began pouring out of me as I struggled and as Steve struggled. I wanted Steve to hear those familiar and comforting words over the wailing of his kids, and I wanted to drown out any sound coming from that room where my friend was dying.
We buried Steve on Saturday at his home place in Gainesboro. He was buried next to his beloved grandparents and his brother David who was murdered while Steve was in prison. I, like Steve, hope that this horrible nightmare brings peace to the Stafford family, but I am hard pressed to see how so much suffering inflicted on the Henley family can possibly bring anyone any peace.
For now, I will try to heal and remember my friend by telling his story and through the work that I am doing to end this awful death penalty. The last thing I said to Steve before the poison flowed was, “Steve, I am never going to quit.” He raised his head with a smile and said, “I am counting on that.” Steve, none of us will quit until the death penalty is abolished. And yes, you can count on that.
The state of Tennessee plans to execute Steve Henley at 1:00 a.m. on Wednesday, February 4th. The citizen response to this planned execution has been incredible.
-6 total phone banks in Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Nashville
-Over 2000 phone calls made to ask citizens to call Governor Bredesen and ask him to grant Steve clemency
-Hundreds of phone calls made to the Governor
-Nearly 1000 clemency cards delivered to the Governor
-2 opinion editorials
-2 letters to the editor
The grassroots response has been strong because Tennesseans are troubled by the circumstances of this execution. The two opinion editorials, Rea Frey in the Tennessean, and Rev. Jodi McCullah in the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, highlight these problems. Read Rea’s by CLICKING HERE. Read Jodi’s by CLICKING HERE. Read Amy Sayward’s letter to the editor by CLICKING HERE. Read Phil Michal Thomas’ letter to the editor by CLICKING HERE.
“Steve Henley, a Jackson County native, is scheduled to be executed early tomorrow morning for a crime he says he did not commit. At his trial, 24 years ago, the prosecution presented no solid evidence. He was accused of arson, yet there was no proof. He was accused of robbing and shooting his neighbors, yet the autopsy never recovered any bullets, and robbery was never proven. The only “evidence” in the case came from a known drug user, Terry Flatt, who made a plea bargain with the state in order to be released in just five years.”
“How can we move to take a man’s life based on nothing more than the testimony of a drug addict who made a deal? How can we allow this in kind of thing to happen in our criminal system?”
“The Tennessee Death Penalty Study Committee, created by the Legislature in 2007, found multiple examples of Tennessee death row inmates who received grossly inadequate representation at their trials, which led to their death sentences. Steve Henley’s case is an example of such inadequate representation. If our own state legislative committee found such dire problems, how can we move forward with taking this man’s life? If we make a mistake by executing Steve Henley, we cannot take it back. And why is it that no one seems to care that the state is poised to kill one of its citizens — at great cost to the taxpayers? Certainly we deserve more thorough coverage of this impending execution.”
In Nashville, a Service of Remembrance and Resistance will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 3rd, at Brookmeade Congregational Church, 700 Bresslyn Road, Nashville, TN 37205. TCASK and its members will later gather at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution at 12:00 a.m. to hold a candlelight vigil unless the execution has been stayed. Riverbend Maximum Security Institution is located at 7475 Cockrill Bend Blvd, Nashville, TN 37209.
When heading to Riverbend, drive past the main entrance and officers will direct you to the parking. There have been instances when car and person have been searched so be sure to remove any items that might be misconstrued (knives, tools, etc.). Please dress very warmly as we are expecting very cold weather and high winds. Also, consider wearing water proof items as the moisture level is high at Riverbend.
Call TCASK if you have any questions before 5pm, (615) 256-3906, after 5pm, (615) 521-9985.
In Memphis, there will be a vigil at Immaculate Conception Cathedral located at 1695 Central Avenue. The vigil will start at 7:00 p.m. and last until the execution has been stayed or carried out. Call Rev. Amy Howe at (901) 482-1213 if you have any questions.