A story in yesterday’s Tennessean described an overburdened and under-resourced public defenders office in Nashville that does not have the ability to defend any more capital cases at this time.
In the story, Assistant Public Defender Mike Engle explained the public defenders’ office currently has just a few attorneys who are qualified to defend capital cases, two of whom are already working on one case and the other who is preparing to retire. Others at the office are already supervising other public defenders, making it impossible to also take on a death penalty case. Engle referenced the American Bar Association estimation that a typical death penalty case takes upward of 2,000 hours of preparation as it is the most serious and complicated of cases to defend.
Dawn Deaner, Nashville’s public defender, states, “There are maximum caseload standards that are recommended for public defenders in Tennessee. If you apply those standards to the number of cases we handled in fiscal year ‘13, we were 22 lawyers short in our office to be able to handle the workload that we have.”
If Tennessee wants the death penalty, the state will have to pay for it. Already our state is spending untold millions on a system that has executed six people in 53 years, and we are still not spending nearly enough to ensure that each defendant has adequate representation at trial. When are we going to figure out that we can’t afford the death penalty?
In the legislative Tennessee Committee to Study the Administration of the Death Penalty that met from 2007-2009, David Raybin, the attorney who wrote Tennessee’s death penalty statute, called the death penalty a “luxury item” in the state’s budget. He told the committee, “if you want to do it right, be prepared to pay for it.”
The state of Tennessee is not prepared to pay for it, and if fact, does not want to know what we are already paying for it as our state has no centralized method of tracking the comprehensive costs. With alternatives available to us that are less expensive and don’t risk the lives of the innocent, individuals who themselves may have had little defense at trial because of the very issues outlined in this article, why would we continue to utilize the death penalty?
Picture from Wikipedia
On November 23, 2013, Delbert Tibbs died at his home at the age of 74. He was a poet, the Assistant Director of Membership and Training for Witness to Innocence, and a man who spent time on death row for a crime he didn’t commit.
NCADP Executive Director Diann Rust-Tierney wrote this remembrance of Tibbs published today in the Huffington Post.
Rest in peace, Delbert. You will be missed.
Picture by Peter Kramer via Getty Images
Today as the world celebrates the life of Nelson Mandela, we at TADP join with so many to honor this great human being and to give thanks for his witness to the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.
After suffering from the oppression and brutality of apartheid in South Africa, enduring unspeakable suffering as his friends and fellow South Africans were murdered and as he himself was locked up for 27 years, Mandela chose another way. He saw the viciousness of the cycle of violence and retribution and understood that if he pursued such a course as President, his country would be awash in more blood. Instead, he turned toward forgiveness and worked to bring together those who were once called “enemies,” in order that his nation could become a nation that treats all its citizens–no matter who they are–with dignity and equality.
Not long after Mandela’s election to the South African Presidency in 1994, the nation’s courts abolished the death penalty on June 6, 1995. In a nation where, during the apartheid regime, state violence and retribution were the norms, the nation followed their leader in choosing another way.
In 2005, I was honored to travel to South Africa and attend the 50th wedding anniversary celebration of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife, Leah, after their daughter Naomi (a member of TADP ’s Advisory Board) invited me. Nelson Mandela attended the celebration, and I had the opportunity to meet him very briefly. This moment was one of the highlights of my life as his witness continues to inspire me in my work today.
As we all remember and celebrate this great leader, let us also be inspired by his example and work even more diligently to end the death penalty system in the U.S., joining the nation of South Africa as a abolition nation.
Picture from NBC News
“I just don’t like killing people.” With those words, singer/songwriter John Hiatt summed up his opposition to the death penalty during last night’s annual Generations Against the Death Penalty Show at 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville.
In addition to John Hiatt and his daughter, Lilly Hiatt, other performers included parent and son duos Gail Davies and Chris Scruggs; Riders in the Sky’s Ranger Doug and James Green; and Marcus and Levi Hummon playing with their band The Hummons. Dr. Lee Camp of Lipscomb University in Nashville was the emcee for the evening and conducted interviews with Charles Strobel, TADP board member and murder victim’s family member, as well as Ray Krone, the nation’s 100th death row exoneree.
And though their was a packed house for this amazing event with high hopes for repeal, the headline in today’s Tennessean read, “Tennessee makes unprecedented push to execute 10 killers,” a stark reminder of just how important our work is and how much more needs to be done. And, though the trend in our nation is clearly moving away from the death penalty with public support at its lowest level since 1972, the state of Tennessee is moving toward execution, though there is clear and convincing evidence that the system in our state is broken and cannot be trusted.
Please join TADP in our efforts to move this state toward repeal. Donate to TADP today and sign up to join our mailing list. Submit letters to the editor to your local papers highlighting the death penalty’s unfair application, exorbitant cost, and risk of executing the innocent. We need you now more than ever to raise our collective voices, to educate our communities, and to tell our leaders we do not want the death penalty.
Singer-songwriter John Hiatt and his daughter Lilly are among a handful of musical parent and offspring pairings who will perform at the fourth annual Generations Against the Death Penalty benefit concert, Wednesday, Dec. 4, at 3rd and Lindsley.
Concert proceeds benefit Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (TADP), as we seek to honor life by abolishing the death penalty through education and advocating for a public policy change.
The conversation has changed with far more people of all generations and political backgrounds speaking up and saying the death penalty makes no sense. TADP is deeply grateful to these musicians who are providing a night of entertainment and supporting our goal of repealing the death penalty in Tennessee.
In addition to John and Lilly Hiatt, parent and son performers in the lineup include, Gail Davies and Chris Scruggs; Riders in the Sky’s Ranger Doug and James Green; and Marcus and Levi Hummon.
Tickets for the fourth annual Generations Against the Death Penalty concert are $30 for general admission and $75 for VIP seats. The concert is at 7 p.m. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. Purchase tickets here.
The Generations Show was also chosen by the Nashville Scene for its weekly Critic’s Pick.
Arguing that the death penalty continues to be as arbitrary today as it was when nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices suspended it in 1972, former President Jimmy Carter called for a nationwide moratorium on the death penalty as he prepares to speak today at a national symposium on the death penalty held by the American Bar Association and hosted by his Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia .
“The only consistency today is that the people who are executed are almost always poor, from a racial minority or mentally deficient,” Carter told the Guardian. “In America today, if you have a good attorney you can avoid the death penalty; if you are white you can avoid it; if your victim was a racial minority you can avoid it. But if you are very poor or mentally deficient, or the victim is white, that’s the way you get sentenced to death.”
He also reflected on his signing off on the new set of death penalty guidelines as Governor of Georgia in 1973, guidelines created to meet the court’s objections to the death penalty system’s inconsistencies set out in the Furman case. “If I had to do that over again I would certainly be much more forceful in taking actions that would have prohibited the death penalty. In complete honesty, when I was governor [of Georgia] I was not nearly as concerned about the unfairness of the application of the death penalty as I am now. I know much more now. I was looking at it from a much more parochial point of view – I didn’t see the injustice of it as I do now.”
Read the article.
Reginald Griffin, a former death row inmate from Missouri, became the nation’s 143rd death row exoneree on October 25 after the state dismissed all the death-related charges against him for the murder of a fellow inmate.
The state relied on jailhouse informants, who received benefits for the their testimony, while also withholding critical evidence that a correctional officer recovered the murder weapon in the possession of another inmate, Jeffrey Smith, immediately following the stabbing. Both of Griffin’s co-defendants repeatedly maintained the third person involved was not Griffin but Smith.
Griffin is the 4th person to be exonerated from Missouri’s death row and the first in 2013 in the U.S. Tennessee has three death row exonerees and a fourth man who was also wrongfully convicted, Ndume Olatushani. Olatushani took an Alford plea, allowing him to maintain his innocence and be released immediately, after already serving 2o years on death row for a crime the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrated he didn’t commit.
Photo provided by Change.org
As Tennessee makes moves to resume executions, our state’s conservative leadership would do well to listen to conservative leaders from other states who believe that maintaining the death penalty system is contradictory to conservative values, and therefore, must be judged by those values.
Chase Blasi, president of the Colwich City Council and who serves on the board of the Kansas Young Republicans, wrote a noteworthy op-ed for the Wichita Eagle that lays out his concerns about the death penalty system, including ineffective and wasteful spending, the risk of executing the innocent, and the inconsistency with a pro-life ethic.
Before Tennessee resumes executions, despite the overwhelming evidence that the state’s system can’t be trusted, perhaps our conservative leaders could tune in to the growing chorus of conservative voices who say that this system needs to go.
Picture from salon.com
Sunday’s Tennessean featured an editorial that called the state’s recent move to resume executions an exhibition of “disturbing hubris.” Highlighting the continued lethal injection saga, the state’s new secrecy law shielding drug providers’ identities from the public, as well as the litany of other problems that TADP has been talking about for years, the paper declares that the state is “moving again the tide of more enlightened correctional systems that help move society away from brutality and seek to address the problems that lead to violent crime in the first place.”
Picture by The Telegraph
The state of Tennessee has set January 15, 2014, as the execution date for Billy Ray Irick who was convicted of the rape and murder of seven-year-old Paula Dyer in Knoxville in 1985. Mr. Irick has suffered from severe mental illness since early childhood and spent ten months in a psychiatric hospital when he was only eight years old.
Mr Irick’s court appointed trial attorneys originally filed a notice of an insanity defense, which they later withdrew. During the duration of his trial, the only mention of his long history of mental illness came during his sentencing hearing. It was only years later that key witnesses were interviewed by Billy’s new attorneys, confirming his psychotic symptoms at the time of the crime.
TADP is very disappointed with the state’s plans to move forward with this execution. We will keep you updated in the coming days on how you can take action on this case.
Picture from knoxnews.com