Archive for February, 2012
This past Saturday, over 120 high school and college students from across Tennessee attended the 6th Annual Student Conference on the Death Penalty at Middle Tennessee State University. TADP Executive Director Stacy Rector opened the conference, giving an overview of our broken death penalty system. Paul House, Tennessee’s second death row exoneree, and his mother, Joyce, also addressed the crowd. The conference’s keynote speakers were Mark Osler, a law professor, former federal prosecutor, and author of Jesus on Death Row, along with Jeanne Bishop, a defense attorney, law professor, and the sister of Nancy Bishop Langert, who was murdered along with her husband and their unborn child in 1990. Mark explained how our modern day death penalty system parallels the trial and execution of Christ, while Jeanne shared the heartbreaking story of her sister’s death and how that experience, along with her faith, only reinvigorated her opposition to the death penalty.
The students then attended workshops before and after lunch, which included topics of mental illness and the death penalty, presented by Chris Slobogin, director of Vanderbilt Law School’s Criminal Justice Program; Sharing Our Stories: Murder Victims’ Families Speak with Hector Black, whose daughter was murdered in 2000; and the impact of the Troy Davis execution, which was facilitated by Ebony Brickhouse, a field organizer for Amnesty International who worked on Davis’ campaign.
Some of the attendees shared with us that the information they received and the discussions they had at this conference led them to re-evaluate their position on the death penalty. We are thrilled that so many students attended and engaged in this important issue. We are hopeful that they will return to their campuses empowered and inspired to educate others and work toward repeal of the death penalty. Thanks to all who participated in making this year’s conference a success!
Now that the student conference is over, Write-a-Thons are approaching, and so is Justice Day on the Hill which will take place April 3. Check out our “Get Involved” tab for more information.
(Photo: TADP Director, Stacy Rector addresses Student Conference. Also pictured are Paul House, Joyce House, and keynote speakers Mark Osler and Jeanne Bishop).
Increasingly, public figures across the country are changing their minds on the death penalty as they examine and witness the realities of our broken system. One such death penalty supporter turned opponent is Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer. He helped write Ohio’s death penalty law 30 years ago when he was a state senator. Today, he’s working to abolish it.
“I have concluded that the death sentence makes no sense to me at this point when you can have life without the possibility of parole,” Pfeifer said during testimony in December in favor of a bill to abolish Ohio’s law. “I don’t see what society gains from that.”
Though Pfiefer continues to rule on death penalty cases and has written both the majority opinion upholding death sentences as well as dissenting opinions, he has maintained for years that prosecutors overuse the statute and that it should only be reserved for the most heinous of murders. He now thinks that the death penalty is unnecessary given that Ohio changed their law in 2005 to make it even easier to put offenders behind bars for life instead of seeking the death penalty.
We are encouraged by Pfeifer’s change of heart, as well as similar sentiments being echoed in Ohio and around the nation that the death penalty is a costly, inefficient, unjust, and unnecessary system that needs to be eliminated.
Photo of Ohio Justice Paul Pfeifer courtesy of AP via Cincinnati.com
Our colleagues at the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty and the Connecticut NAACP have been working hard this session to convince the state’s legislature to repeal the death penalty, and their efforts are paying off. Members of the joint judiciary committee plan to propose repeal legislation this month.
A move to abolish capital punishment for future convictions was halted last year when two Democratic legislators changed their minds after speaking with Dr. William Petit, the only survivor of a 2007 triple slaying that took the lives of his wife and two daughters. The two defendants in that case have since been sentenced to death row, and one of the senators who was influenced by the case says he is now in support of repeal.
Governor Dannel Malloy has said he would sign repeal legislation that abolishes the death penalty for all future cases and does not directly affect sentences of current death row inmates. He is the first Connecticut governor to oppose the death penalty in four decades. There are currently 11 inmates on death row in Connecticut, and there has only been one execution in the state in 51 years.
We applaud the work of CNADP, NAACP, as well as the state legislators who have been trying to win support for repeal in Connecticut. We are hopeful that the majority of lawmakers will realize that maintaining the death penalty is an extremely costly, unjust public policy that does little to deter crime or make our communities safer, and only further traumatizes many victims’ families by dragging them through decades of litigation.
Photo of Senate Chamber in CT State Capitol by Photo Phiend
Last year, the U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic that has long been used as part of the three-drug cocktail in lethal injections, announced that they would no longer produce the drug. This caused a delay in many executions across the country. Many states have since switched to another anesthetic, pentobarbital. However, other states are still trying to obtain sodium thiopental from overseas manufacturers and death row inmates are tying to stop its importation.
Attorneys for inmates in Tennessee, Arizona, and California argued before U.S. District Judge Richard Leon late last week that sodium thiopental is an unapproved drug being manufactured overseas and therefore the Food and Drug Administration is breaking the law by allowing it to be imported. The Obama administration wants the case to be dismissed, arguing that it has discretion to allow unapproved drugs into the U.S.
This latest legal development is yet another symptom of an utterly broken system. Add it to the list of other grave concerns surrounding the death penalty like inadequate representation, wrongful convictions, and the long protracted process for victims families. How much more evidence do we need that this system is too broken to continue?
Yesterday, TADP joined the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP for their 11th Annual Legislative Day on the Hill. The Conference’s members spent the day learning more about the legislative process and how they can get involved; discussing current legislation on important issues like education, health care, voting rights, criminal justice, and immigration; and meeting with their representatives to express their concerns.
Among the group’s legislative priorities is a moratorium on the death penalty. TADP Executive Director, Stacy Rector, spoke to the attendees about the ineffectiveness, inefficiency, high cost, and unfairness of our broken capital punishment system. She highlighted the impact of the Troy Davis case in Georgia and how it further shifted public opinion of the death penalty by raising concerns from people from all walks of life. She also noted NAACP President Benjamin Jealous’ recent statement to the Maryland legislature about the need to abolish the state’s death penalty. He stated, “The state of Maryland continues to waste money on the death penalty, continues to put citizens’ lives at risk by not investing enough in homicide victims services, so that a few politicians can feel tough on crime.”
Tennessee is working toward a full repeal campaign like Maryland’s, but we are not there yet, and there is much groundwork to be laid before we can successfully move forward with such a campaign. We look forward to continuing to work with the NAACP and partnering with others who are concerned about our state’s priorities and educate more and more communities about why the death penalty needs to go.
Photo by Zepfanman.com
TADP is sad to report that on Saturday evening, February 4th, longtime, Tennessee capital defense attorney, Bill Redick, passed away after a battle with cancer.
In the words of his colleague and friend Brad MacLean:
Bill was a giant in the Tennessee death penalty defense community. He worked on death penalty cases from the early 1980’s and served as the director of the Capital Case Resource Center of Tennessee (CCRC) from its founding in 1988 until it was closed by the state and federal governments in 1995.
Bill helped author Tools for the Ultimate Trial, The Tennessee Death Penalty Defense Manual, published by the CCRC and distributed by the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (TACDL), which set the standard for capital defense representation in Tennessee – a standard, too often ignored by defense attorneys and the courts, that has continued to evolve since that time due largely to Bill’s work. He served as Chairman of TACDL’s Death Penalty Committee from 1984 to 1995. He founded and directed The Tennessee Justice Project from 2004 until 2007 when his illness took a hold of him. In 1992 Bill was the first recipient of TACDL’s Death Penalty Award for outstanding work in the death penalty arena; in 2003 he received the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Legal Service Award; and in 2010 he received TACDL’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honor bestowed on a criminal defense lawyer in Tennessee.
Bill was directly or indirectly involved in scores of capital post-conviction and habeas corpus cases. He won relief for several condemned inmates, and none of his clients have been executed – a remarkable record. His devotion to his clients, his tenacity, and the quality of his work over the course of an entire career were unparalleled. Bill dedicated his life and soul to the legal representation of the most marginalized and vilified members of our society. He had an unyielding vision of what capital defense representation was about. He set the bar for all of us.
I have never known a person who was as dedicated to a cause, as steadfastly honest in his work, and as humble as Bill. His impact on our community was far-reaching and can be felt in all that we do. We will sorely miss him.
TADP echoes Brad’s sentiments and feels honored to have worked with Bill through the years. We are also particularly grateful for his service on the Tennessee Committee to Study the Administration of the Death Penalty from 2007-2009 and for his commitment to equal justice for all. Thank you, Bill.
Photo by Jim McGuire
At the request of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, the state’s Supreme Court has set the execution of Edwin Hart Turner for 6 pm on February 8. Hart is on death row for killing two men at a Mississippi gas station in 1995. He had no prior criminal history.
Numerous mental health experts have reviewed the case and have reached the conclusion that Hart was suffering from a severe mental disorder at the time of the crimes which would have impacted his moral and legal culpability. These experts agree that at the very minimum, Hart’s history demonstrates the need for a searching mental health review. They point to a laundry list of facts that merit further inquiry:
* Hart’s own documented history of mental disturbances, bizarre behavior leading up to the offense, and repeated hospitalizations throughout adolescence for impulsiveness, agitated depression, and suicidal thinking and actions.
* Hart’s family history of mental illness, including a grandmother and a great-grandmother who were institutionalized with diagnoses of schizophrenia, prevalent addiction in the family, and suicide attempts from both parents.
* Hart’s documented history indicative of traumatic brain injury, including being unresponsive and potentially anoxic at birth, hospital treatment on at least three occasions for head injuries, battles with substance abuse including gasoline huffing as a young teenager, a shotgun blast to the face and head, and an 18-point drop in performance IQ (from 108 to 90). At the time of his offense, neither PET scans nor fMRI were in wide use, or used on Hart.
* Hart’s exposure to traumatic events during childhood, including witnessing intense physical fights between his parents, his father’s horrifying death and his mother’s threats to beat him if he cried about it. Hart has never been evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
* Developments in the treatment of mental illness since 1995 which demonstrate the danger that anti-depressants (like Prozac) may actually compound mania when prescribed to individuals with bipolar disorder.
Without intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court or by the Governor of Mississippi, Hart Turner, a man suffering from a life-long, hereditary and crippling mental illness, will be executed by lethal injection on Wednesday, February 8, 2012. Please help! Ask Governor Bryant to stay Mr. Turner’s execution pending a review of his mental health.
Contact Mississippi’s Governor:
The Hon. Phil Bryant