Archive for September, 2011
Gaile Owens, who spent 26 years on Tennessee’s death row and approached an execution in 2010, will be a free woman soon. Four of the seven members of the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole voted to free her after a quarter-century in prison on the one year anniversary of the date that she was to be executed for the murder of her husband, Ron Owens.
Gaile’s son, Stephen, stated, “I am grateful to the parole board for granting parole to my mother, Gaile Owens, after 26 years in prison. One year ago today was the date that Mom was to be executed had Gov. Phil Bredesen not commuted her sentence. I will always be grateful to Gov. Bredesen, to my mother’s legal team, and to the thousands of friends and strangers who have rallied behind my mom and our family.”
The next step is for Owens’ release plan to be approved. She will likely be released in the next 1 to 3 weeks while regularly reporting to a Probation and Parole Officer.
Thanks to everyone who made calls, signed petitions, and wrote letters to the editor concerning this case. Gaile Owens gets a second chance because of your efforts.
Yesterday, September 25th, marked the fifth annual observance of National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. This day honors the memory of homicide victims and acknowledges the long-term trauma experienced by families, communities, and the nation in the wake of a murder.
As part of seeking to honor life in Tennessee, TADP sponsored an event on September 22nd called Circle of Hope to connect with the National Day of Remembrance. Though sponsored by TADP, the event had nothing to do with the death penalty and instead focused on bringing together those directly impacted by homicide, no matter their feelings about the death penalty, to share stories and their on-going needs. National victims’ advocates Bill and Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins facilitated the event with 20 participating.
Here is a reflection on the event by one of TADP’s interns:
My name is Emily Denton and I am in my first month as an intern for TADP. I am also in my final semester at Vanderbilt Divinity school and am thrilled to spend my last few months as a student working to put the religious and justice ideals I study in the classroom into practice with this organization.
Last week I had the opportunity to attend an event sponsored by TADP, entitled Circle of Hope. This event was specifically designed for victims’ families and victims’ service organizations to offer support, dialogue opportunities, and resources for those affected by tragic loss due to homicide. Bill and Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins led the event and gave each of the participants a signed copy of Bill’s book, What to do When the Police Leave.
This group of roughly twenty people had each experienced tragic loss due to violent crime. They spoke of their experience of grief and loss and told stories of what it felt like to lose a loved one to violence. They had experienced dealing with funeral homes and government bureaucracy in the aftermath of homicide. Some also had useful professional or technical skills to offer. Each of their stories was different, but each testimony had a common thread of the necessity of mutual support and the inability to move forward alone.
I was deeply moved by the generosity and empathy behind this heartfelt outreach from survivor to survivor. It also got me thinking about the broader implications of the outreach and support that Bill and Jenifer were attempting to orchestrate. The need to share one’s story of loss and healing was a continual refrain, as Jennifer stated, “crime victims are often traumatized, and the more serious the crime, the greater the trauma. Traumatic memories are laid down in the brain in a different way than normal memories, and trauma has significant neurological and physiological impact on the human body and psyche.” One way to move forward and heal after traumatic loss is through sharing the story of your love and loss, and to hear the testimonies of others.
I was able to see first hand how outreach to surviving family members of murder victims helps build a holistic response to violence in which we can all stand together with one voice in a stance against injustice. None of us can overcome violence on our own, but if we as an entire community bring together all of our expertise and resources we increase our chances of creating positive change in our communities.
As most of you now know, last night the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis. Though the U.S. Supreme Court delayed the execution by issuing a brief stay, Troy Davis was pronounced dead at 11:08 p.m.
Reflecting on the time his family spent with Troy yesterday, his sister, Kimberly Davis, stated, “Our last moments were joyous. My brother was giving us charge as to what he wanted us to do, telling us to hold our heads up, telling my nephew to continue to be all that he could be… My niece was showing him her ballet shoes and telling him to stand on his tippy toes like a ballerina.” TADP joins so many around the world in offering our deepest condolences to the Davis family who has suffered so much. We also continue to hold the MacPhail family in our prayers as well.
The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) sent an email last night stating: Today the state of Georgia denied the humanity of Troy Anthony Davis. The state of Georgia also denied the humanity of his family, whose grief and loss is real and worthy of recognition. Georgia also denied the humanity of millions of people in Georgia, across the country and the word. This execution being done in the name of the people of Georgia, indeed, in the name of all of us bound by the laws of the U.S. Constitution was done without our agreement and over our vigorous and sustained objection.
The effort to save the life of Troy Davis ends today but the campaign to end the death penalty begins anew, in earnest. If the people cannot control their government, if what is done in our name is done despite our objection, it is our solemn duty to work with the people of Georgia to make it right. Government must be responsible and accountable to the people – all the people equally.
We pledge to follow the example set by the Davis Family and Troy, to continue the fight, upholding the dignity and humanity of every person – if this is not the last execution in Georgia, it will be among the last.
Today, the state of Georgia has demonstrated the extreme degree to which its system of justice is broken. It cannot be sustained. We call on all who have worked so tirelessly in Georgia to prevent this travesty of justice to work equally hard with us to end the death penalty in Georgia, and everywhere so that no family will again have to suffer what Troy Davis’s family has suffered today.
We, at TADP, ask you to renew your commitment to this fight by supporting this work in whatever ways you are able. Until the death penalty is repealed, there will always be more Troy Davises. How can you get more involved? Join a local TADP chapter, contact TADP about your willingness to write letters to the editor for your local papers, invite a speaker from TADP to speak to your community of faith or civic organization, get involved with our spring write-a-thons and Justice Day, or work with TADP to plan an educational event in your community. And please continue to support the work of abolition by donating to TADP as we cannot do this work without you.
Today is an extremely hard day for all of us. But even as we grieve, we also can be inspired by Troy Davis’ own words spoken yesterday, “The struggle for justice does not end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davises who came before me. I’m in good spirits and I’m prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I’ve taken my last breath. Georgia is prepared to snuff out the life of an innocent man.” And Georgia did, but we will keep on struggling until no state can do it again.
Tonight the state of Georgia is planning to execute Troy Davis, though there is grave doubt about his guilt in the murder of Mark MacPhail, a Savannah police officer. At the same time, Lawrence Brewer is also scheduled to die in Texas for the race-motivated, horrific dragging death of James Byrd.
James Byrd’s son, Ross, is opposed to the death penalty and recently stated, “You can’t fight murder with murder. Life in prison would have been fine. I know he can’t hurt my daddy anymore. I wish the state would take in mind that this isn’t what we want.”
Both cases are rife with issues of race, class, and violence. Both cases are deeply troubling in different ways and both Troy Davis and Lawrence Brewer are running out of time.
Earlier today, six former wardens who oversaw executions released a statement urging Georgia corrections officials to ask the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to reconsider their decision in Davis’ case. If the execution does go forward as planned, the letter asks them to allow prison workers to opt out of participation.
If you haven’t yet contacted the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles asking for clemency for Troy Davis, you still have time to email them at Clemency_Information@pap.state.ga.us.
There is still hope for stays in both cases, but the urgency of our work right now is a stark reminder of just how broken this system is and how much we need to end the death penalty once and for all. Particularly in the case of Troy Davis, with so much lingering doubt and with the option of life without parole on the table, why are we executing him? I hope you will all consider becoming involved with us at TADP, supporting us with your time or financial gifts, or with your state organization working to abolish the death penalty. We need you to end this nightmare.
In closing, I will leave you with a statement that Troy made yesterday about his impending execution. My hope and prayer is for a stay, but no matter what happens tonight, Troy’s words will continue to inspire us all as we move forward in this work to end the death penalty.
“The struggle for justice does not end with me. This struggle is for all the Troy Davis’ who came before me. I’m in good spirits and I’m prayerful and at peace. But I will not stop fighting until I’ve taken my last breath. Georgia is prepared to snuff out the life of an innocent man.”
Just after 8 AM on Tuesday morning, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole denied clemency to Troy Davis.
According to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty the decision reflects the reality that “the system is profoundly and unalterably broken.” Affirming the NCADP’s sentiments, Amnesty International USA president Larry Cox said that “allowing a man to be sent to death under an enormous cloud of doubt about his guilt is an outrageous affront to justice.”
Unlike in Tennessee, Georgia does not give the Governor the authority to grant clemency in death penalty cases. The final decision rests in the hands of the Board of Pardons and Parole. But, despite the disappointing decision this morning, there is still an opportunity to petition the Board to reverse their decision. In the event that the Board does not overturn its decision, Mr. Davis’ execution is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 PM.
With the cloud of doubt still looming heavily over Mr. Davis’ guilt, it seems clear that “the only way to prevent an innocent man from being executed… is to end the death penalty [in the United States] once and for all.”
Photo courtesy of Curtis Compton
Over the weekend, hundreds of demonstrations in support of clemency for Georgia death row inmate, Troy Davis, took place worldwide. Nearly 1 million petitions have been delivered to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, representing only the petitions delivered by the coalition organizing around this case.
The Parole Board began meeting this morning at 9:00 a.m. A decision is expected this evening or tomorrow morning on Troy’s case. We are asking for prayers and good thoughts all day today as they continue in their deliberatations on this case.
To get updates, you can follow @lauramoye for tweets or follow her tweet feed at justicefortroy. We will post more information as soon as it becomes available.
In a last-minute decision on Thursday evening, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the execution of Duane Buck as the fairness of Buck’s sentencing trial continues to be investigated.
According to CBS News, the decision comes as a surprise considering that the Supreme Court rarely intervenes in state executions, especially in cases where the guilt of the defendant is not in question. However, the clear taint of racially-biased witness testimony and other discrepancies in the sentencing and appeal process warranted a stay in Buck’s execution.
During Buck’s sentencing trial, psychologist Walter Quijano testified before jurors that African Americans posed a higher risk of repeat violence than white offenders. This crucial testimony that led to Buck’s death sentence “needed review” because of its discriminatory nature, according to a 2000 statement released by John Cornyn, Texas’ then attorney general. And of the five other cases that included Quijano’s testimony, each defendant was granted a new sentencing hearing.
In addition to petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court, Buck’s legal team also petitioned Governor Rick Perry for a “30-day reprieve on the execution to give time for all parties to look at his case, but Perry did not act.” Despite this inaction, the intervention of the U.S. Supreme Court will guarantee more time for state officials to consider his case, not necessarily a new sentencing trial.
Photo provided via Death Row USA
As the execution date of Troy Davis draws closer, TADP is asking for your support in seeking clemency for Mr. Davis. The details of Mr. Davis’ case raises serious doubts about his guilt.
We are asking supporters to sign the Amnesty International petition, which asks Georgia authorities to reconsider Mr. Davis’ death sentence.
For people interested in traveling to Atlanta, there are two upcoming events:
In downtown Atlanta on September 16 , there will be a March assembling at Woodruff Park, Peachtree and Edgewood and concluding at Ebenezer Baptist Church, 407 Auburn Ave with a service featuring national civil rights, community and religious leaders, Martina Correia and other family members of Troy Davis, and exonerated prisoners.
On September 19, there will be a prayer vigil outside of Georgia’s State Board of Pardons and Paroles in correspondence with the Monday morning clemency hearing scheduled for 10:30 AM
Photo by Scott Langley
Wednesday, former death row inmate Gaile Owens is one step closer to freedom, writes Tennessean reporter Brian Haas. Owens told Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole board member, Pasty Bruce, that she bears “full responsibility” for the murder of her husband in 1985 and that she is deeply remorseful for the role she played in the murder.
Watch video of Owens\’ parole hearing here.
“It is with immeasurable regret and remorse that I admit that I’m responsible for the death of my husband, Ron Owens. I ultimately put, was responsible for putting the wheels in motion that caused his death…I bear the full responsibility” said Owens.
Owen’s was joined at the Tennessee Prison for Women by a group of more than 50 supporters, among them Former Tennessean publisher and editor John Seigenthaler Sr., who for the past several years has spoken out on the injustice of her sentence, citing other cases in which women murdered their husbands and did not receive the death penalty. Some of whom avoided prison altogether. “All these women now are on parole and she remains here,” Seigenthaler said. “I know her to be a person of intelligence, integrity, a person of courage, a person of talent who can make a real contribution to society if you grant her parole.”
Bruce said that her decision on Gaile Owens’ sentence was complicated, and she claimed to be troubled by the severity of the crime. Ultimately Bruce voted for Owen’s parole.
“I have decided that based on all of these things that I am going to vote to parole you today,” Bruce said “But again, hold on, that’s one vote. Remember, I’m still the only one person here. This is not a final vote, Ms. Owens; this is not a final vote.”
Gaile, her attorneys, and her friends have been working relentlessly to ensure Owen’s freedom and to prepare her for outside of prison. She has proved herself to be a model inmate, volunteering in many capacities at the prison, including mentoring younger inmates as they seek rehabilitation.
This is a woman whose case went through over 20 years of appeals and yet no court chose to remedy the troubling issues in her case, including the fact that the jury was never told about the domestic abuse she suffered, that she received ineffective legal representation at trial and that important evidence was withheld. Since her sentencing in 1985, she has endured 26 years of appeals with the Governor finally intervening just a few months before her execution to keep her alive.
Sadly, for every case like Gaile Owens’ there are a hundred others who may never get the attention her case garnered. How many more years and resources do we want to expend maintaining a system as flawed as this one?
A Chatham County Judge in Georgia has set an execution date of Sept. 21 for Troy Davis. Davis was sentenced to death in 1991, but since that time, the case against him has fallen apart. The evidence used against Davis at trial consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time. Since then, all but two of the state’s non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Some of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Davis. One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester “Red” Coles — the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.
An execution is NOT inevitable. This date merely sets the clemency process in motion. Before Sept. 21, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles will rule on whether Davis’ sentence should be commuted. Amnesty International will call an International Day of Solidarity for Troy Davis when more information is available about the parole board’s plans.
Check here for further updates.