Death by blackness?


By Shane Claiborne

by PADP Board Member Shane Claiborne The color of your skin shouldn’t determine whether you live or die. But that is precisely the case for Duane Buck, a Texas man facing execution. His case is before the Supreme Court this month. Earlier this month, the nation’s highest court allowed the execution of another African American man, Kenneth Fults, to take place in Georgia despite the fact that his own defense lawyer referred to him as “nigger” and fell asleep in court. On top of that, one of the jurors in the case, Thomas Buffington said this: “I don’t know if he ever killed anybody, but that nigger got just what should have happened.” Buffington went on to say that the death penalty is “what that nigger deserved.” Kenneth Fults was executed on April 12. Now the Supreme Court will consider the case of Duane Buck. It’s the next big test of whether the words inscribed on the front of the Supreme Court – “Equal Justice Under the Law” – are a mirage. Mr. Buck’s guilt is not in question. What is in question is whether or not he should be executed for what he did. And what is also in question is whether or not black people are more dangerous than white people. In Texas, during the sentencing trial in capital cases, the “future dangerousness” of the defendant is considered as the jury determines whether someone should be executed. In Mr. Buck’s case, his own attorneys introduced testimony from a psychologist that Mr. Buck posed a danger to society because he is black. That same psychologist, Walter Quijano, gave...

Williams v. Pennsylvania at the US Supreme Court


By Kathleen Lucas

This morning, the US Supreme Court heard oral argument in a case that goes to the very heart of the issue of fairness. The question in Williams v. Pennsylvania is whether a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, who was the District Attorney at the time a case was prosecuted and personally approved seeking the death penalty, should recuse himself when it came up on appeal. According to Marc Bookman, Director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation, “While you never want to guess how the Supreme Court is going to rule in a case, the justices clearly understood that there are multiple serious problems involved with former Chief Justice Castille’s refusal to recuse himself.” To add insult to injury, when Castille ran for the PA Supreme Court (we still elect judges here in the Commonwealth) he boasted about his success in getting death sentences as a District Attorney. That sounds like a problem to me. Shawn Nolan, the Chief of the Capital Habeas Unit, Federal Community Defender summed it up nicely. “This is quite simple: when you prosecute a case and personal authorize the death penalty, you cannot later sit as a judge on that same case to decide whether your own office engaged in prosecutorial misconduct to obtain that death sentence. “ And it’s not as if the office of the Philadelphia District Attorney hasn’t had plenty of prosecutorial misconduct. In this case alone, prosecutors withheld mitigating evidence, leading Judge Sarmina to blow a proverbial gasket. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the prosecution schlepping boxes and boxes of material into her chambers when she ruled that prosecutorial misconduct was not...

Warning: If you want to cling to your ignorance, don’t read this.


By Kathleen Lucas

Next time you defend the death penalty by saying that it’s the appropriate punishment for a person who confesses or when the crime is unspeakable, you might want to remember this. http://ow.ly/PDUdv Two young children were raped and murdered in the basement of their home. The man convicted of the crime CONFESSED (at least according to police) to the crime AND failed a lie-detector test. The prosecution fought for years to keep the DNA from being tested — explain that one to me, will you? Then, it finally gets tested and there’s a match with another person who is now serving a prison sentence for… you guessed it… rape. What’s not clear to me from the story is whether or not the rape for which that other man was convicted happened before the 7 and 8 year old children were raped and murdered. I hesitate to research that part. And oh yeah, the only reason he wasn’t sentenced to death is because there was just one hold-out on the jury. Thank God for that. The price we, as a society, pay for keeping the death penalty includes a long line of cold cases and rape kits that aren’t tested because the government doesn’t have the resources to handle them. Let’s reexamine our priorities, shall we? Kathleen...

Governor Wolf has the high ground here


By Marlene Lang

The wording of House Resolution 143 calls Governor Wolf’s moratorium on the death penalty unconstitutional. The action taken by the governor was a moratorium on executions until a study is complete. Wolf has not disregarded the constitution; rather, the governor has taken a conservative action as to avoid error.   I’m unafraid to point out the hypocrisy of opposing an essentially conservative action by the governor which respects life and seeks to examine the effectiveness of the system that metes out death — as was called for in Furman v. Georgia and reaffirmed (though grudgingly) in Gregg v. Georgia. Gregg put in place procedural restrictions and the study will examine if the death penalty in Pennsylvania in fact is meeting the standards set by the Supreme Court in 1976 for its use. This was after executions were found to constitute cruel and unusual punishment, only four years earlier.  Case discussion of Gregg v. Georgia states, “The concerns expressed in Furman that the death penalty not be imposed arbitrarily or capriciously can be met by a carefully drafted statute that ensures that the sentencing authority is given adequate information and guidance, concerns best met by a system that provides for a bifurcated proceeding at which the sentencing authority is apprised of the information relevant to the imposition of sentence and provided with standards to guide its use of that information. Pp. 188-195.” (https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/428/153) It is not unreasonable, in light of recent multiple exonerations and evidence of arbitrary or biased sentencing that the governor should ask for a review of how the death penalty is being used and to hold off...

Nebraska repealed the death penalty!


By Marshall Dayan

Nebraska makes history!   The Nebraska legislature, having passed a death penalty repeal bill last week, sustained that repeal by overriding today Governor Pete Ricketts’ veto by a vote of 30-19.  This is a huge victory for the national movement to abolish the death penalty, and it was accomplished by a tremendous grass roots movement of Nebraskans to eliminate the financial waste of an arbitrary and capricious system that just didn’t work.  More than that, Nebraskans decided that the death penalty was just plain immoral.  Senator after Senator expressed the view that the death penalty was broken, expensive, arbitrary and, worse, racist and classist, but ultimately, that the death penalty was incongruent with their moral sensibilities.  The Midwest leads the nation in repealing the death penalty, from Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin to Illinois and Iowa to now Nebraska, Midwestern values do not include the state’s power to punish by death. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, my home, is often called the gateway to the Midwest, so Pennsylvania is primed to join its midwestern neighbors, as well as neighbors West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York, to repeal the death penalty, too.  Pennsylvania has a conservative legislature.  So does Nebraska.  Pennsylvanians are overwhelmingly people of faith.  So are Nebraskans.  Pennsylvanians are concerned about fiscal responsibility, as are Nebraskans.  Pennsylvanians care about justice, as do Nebraskans.  If a conservative Nebraska legislature can vote four times to repeal the death penalty, including an override of a gubernatorial veto, we Pennsylvanians can also organize to repeal the death penalty. But it is going to take hard work.  And money.  So I urge you, let your voices be heard.  Make it clear that you support the...

Great news on the death penalty abolition front


By Kathleen Lucas

Repeal bill passed the senate in Delaware   Former Alabama Death Row inmate Anthony Ray Hinton to be freed after new testing on bullets   And for more proof of how the system is too error-prone to allow government killing, there’s this:  three men convicted of murder in Ohio were released thanks to the tireless work of the Ohio Innocence...

Proper etiquette for handling exoneration from death row


By Kathleen Lucas

Dear Emily Post, I’m faced with an etiquette dilemma and I could sure use your help. How, precisely, does one make up for sentencing an innocent person to death? Does the proper response change based on the number of years that have passed since the wrongful conviction happened or does it depend just on the number of years spent on death row waiting to be executed? Since in this latest case, the state is Arizona, do you think I should go with a southwest theme? And about the detective who lied and said she confessed, does he have to send a separate note or can he sign one along with the prosecutors who withheld evidence? Does Hallmark make a “So Sorry We Lied About Your Confession, From All of Us” card? Should they hold a birthday party for each year she couldn’t have one because she was in prison? Do we reenact all of the milestones she missed in her friends’, family’s and loved ones’ lives or just the ones where she would have been the guest of honor? And what’s an appropriate consolation gift for 23 years on death row? I googled “traditional anniversary gifts” and found out that one should give something silver-plated. Do death row anniversaries use the same theme? I don’t want to spend too much, but I don’t want to seem cheap, either. Should I wrap it in the newspaper page that covered the story, or is that too much? In case this figures into the equation, Debra Milke is the 151st death row exoneree. The court dismissed the charges and used the word...

DA Stedman disregarded my opposition to the death penalty


By Linnell Patterson

Posted: Sunday, March 22, 2015 6:00 am LINELL PATTERSON l SPECIAL TO LNP I was shocked and saddened when I opened the newspaper several weeks ago and read an op-ed from Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman (“Governor’s moratorium violates his oath of office,” Perspective, Feb. 22) in which he claims, “I have never pursued a death verdict when a family is opposed and/or simply wants to avoid the appeals.” His words did not ring true for me. My father and stepmother were brutally tortured and murdered in 2001, and over my sister’s and my  strong objection, Stedman sought the death penalty for one of the three people who killed them. The conversation my sister and I had with Stedman in the aftermath of losing our father and stepmother was one I found very upsetting and bewildering. When asked how my sister and I felt about the death penalty, we responded that we didn’t believe it would honor our father and stepmother. What could have been a conversation that made us feel included and respected ended with us feeling that our sentiments were deemed irrelevant and unreasonable. In contrast to what he said in his op-ed, Stedman was quite clear with us that despite our wishes, he would pursue the most aggressive punishment possible. Although my sister and I were my father’s immediate family members, there were other relatives who supported the death penalty and their views took priority. During the trial, we met the family of one of the young men who was on trial. His family grieved with us and was desperately sorrowful about the acts that...

Widow: I don’t want to see him executed


By Kathleen Lucas

Over two years ago, Mrs. Norwood stated, in writing, that she did not want Terry Williams to be executed for her husband’s murder.  Today, she reasserted her position. But the District Attorney and some House Representatives deliberately ignored her wishes and introduced a resolution claiming to seek justice for her. Using murder victim’s family members to advance a political agenda is shameful. Those people owe her an apology.  We call on them to stop the farce, withdraw HR 143 and instead spend their time and energy, paid for by we taxpayers, to support the moratorium and help to find alternatives that really help victims’ families. Stop using family members as pawns in your twisted game of chess.  ...

Upcoming Events


By Kathleen Lucas

Joe D’Ambrosio: Death Row Story Thursday, March 19, 2015 – 7:00pm Taylor Little Theatre, Main Drive, Erie, PA 16504, USA Mercyhurst University Meryhurst University is bringing Joe D’Ambrosio, who was convicted of murder and on death row for 21 years before being exonerated and released in 2012, and his advocate, Roman Catholic priest Father Neil Kookoothe, to campus to share D’Ambrosio’s story on Thursday, March 19, at 7 p.m. in Taylor Little Theatre. D’Ambrosio’s story was featured on CNN’s Death Row Stories. The Mercyhurst event is sponsored by the Criminal Justice Department, Administration of Justice Graduate Program, Witness to Innocence and is being offered as part of this year’s university-wide Confronting Injustice academic theme.  Funded through an Academic Enrichment Grant, the program is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Dr. Maria L. Garase, mgarase@mercyhurst.edu, 824-3675.   March 24, 2015 – Shujaa Graham, death row exoneree at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg March 26, 2015 – Kirk Bloodsworth, death row exoneree at UPitt in Johnstown A TALK BY HENDERSON HILL BROKEN BEYOND REPAIR: PENNSYLVANIA ILLUMINATES THE NATION’S ABANDONMENT OF THE DEATH PENALTY March 26th, 2015 @ 7pm, Barco Law Building Room 109 3900 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA Henderson Hill is executive director of the 8th Amendment Project. Hill began his practice with the Public Defender Service in D.C. Throughout his career he has served as executive director of the Federal Defenders of Western North Carolina, spent 15 years as a partner with Ferguson, Stein, Chambers, Gresham & Sumter, and served as director of the North Carolina Death Penalty Resource Center. He also founded the Center for Death Penalty Litigation...