Monday, June 30, 2008

In France

This week Renny Cushing is in Nantes, France for two events: first, the 2008 General Assembly of the World Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (MVFHR is a member of the World Coalition's Steering Committee). Important items on the Coalition's agenda this year will be plans to observe World Day Against the Death Penalty in October, the China 2008 campaign, and the creation of a regional alliance in the Caribbean to end the death penalty. There will be a public debate on the question, "“Shall we campaign in favor of socially responsible investments in abolitionist countries and regions?”

Next, Renny will join activists from around the world in contributing to discussions at the 3rd World Human Rights Forum. You can follow the events of the Forum here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Honoring the Family's Wishes

We were interested to see this article in the June 20th Pennsylvania Daily Item:

Killer spared death sentence; gets life in prison
District attorney honors family's wishes

Moments after learning that he would serve a life sentence in prison rather than possibly face the death penalty, Richard C. Curran on Friday showed emotion for the first time in court this week when a letter written by his eldest daughter was read in Northumberland County Court.
“You deserve to go to jail,” 10-year-old Caitlyn Curran wrote.
She and her family are depressed because of his actions on Aug. 24, 2005, she wrote.
“You’ve disgraced yourself by killing my mom.”
Curran wiped tears from his eyes with a handkerchief upon hearing his daughter’s words, read by her maternal grandmother, Bonnie Smith of Mount Carmel.
It was Smith — mother of Tina Curran, whom Curran shot to death in Shamokin — who Friday asked Northumberland County District Attorney Anthony Rosini to spare her son-in-law from the death penalty in favor of life in prison without parole.
Tearfully reading her own letter from the witness stand, Smith said to Curran: “I hope you spend the rest of your life sitting in a cell, haunted not only by the crime you have committed, but also by the distress you have caused your children.”
Following Smith’s statements, Rosini asked her whether everyone in the family was in agreement over Curran’s spending his life in prison. Yes, she said.
Hearing that, Rosini said he’d no longer would be pursuing the aggravating circumstances on which he would have based his argument in seeking the death penalty.
It would have been impossible to convince the 12 jurors who Thursday found Curran guilty of first-degree murder to give the death penalty when the family was unanimously against it, Rosini said. ...

The issue of the death penalty's effect on families, and particularly children, who are related to both the victim and the offender has long been of great interest to us at MVFHR; we recently blogged about it here.

Our members who have lived through the murder of one parent and then, many years later, the execution of the other parent, say that the second killing only compounded the original trauma. Often, they were in favor of their convicted parent's death sentence at the start and only gradually came to change their minds. But at that point, getting a death sentence commuted to life without parole is much, much harder, even when the grown children plead desperately for it.

At least in this Pennsylvania case, the children will not have to go through that additional agony.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

End This Tide of Fear

Last week, Delane Sims, Death Penalty Outreach Coordinator for the ACLU of Northern California, published a piece in the California Progress Report titled "Why I Oppose the Death Penalty." Here are a couple of excerpts that specifically address the writer's perspective as a victim's family member:

As an African American woman living in Oakland, whose brother was murdered, I strongly oppose the death penalty. More than anything, I want to live in a safe community—a community where my six sons and my daughter are able to pursue all of their dreams without fear of becoming another number in the city homicide count. We live with the consistent threat that - this time - it will be one of them and not a friend or classmate that will become another Oakland victim. While I love my city, this is simply a reality faced by people of color in Oakland each day. I believe a vital step to help end this tide of fear is to end the use of the death penalty.

Why the death penalty? The death penalty is very hurtful to the minority community in Alameda County and the entire state. One reason for this is due to the tremendous cost associated with the death penalty that is draining the county budget. Every death penalty trial costs local counties $1.1 million more than a trial ending in permanent imprisonment. Every person already on death row costs state tax payers hundreds of thousands.


Please don’t surmise that I don’t sympathize with all the families that are victims of murder, being one myself, I certainly care. However, I would not have wanted to relive my brother’s murder over and over again, trial after trial, as happens in death penalty cases. A discovery I made in the wake of my brother's murder is that hating or failing to forgive the perpetrator allows more than one grave to be dug. The stress, pain and hurt that could riddle my body and mind just does not serve me nor honor my brother’s memory. I feel that as long as the perpetrator is permanently locked away, they will serve time in hell here on earth. My heart is with each family that has ever had to face the devastating pain of losing a loved one to a senseless crime.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur

Last Thursday, MVFHR Executive Director Renny Cushing was part of a meeting in Washington, DC with Professor Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbtirary executions. The Special Rapporteur, appointed by the UN Human Rights Commission, is mandated to investigatge killings which violate international human rights law. Investigating the death penalty falls within the Special Rapporteur's mandate if there are concerns about how it is carried out or applied with respect to international human rights standards (for example, if due process is not observed during the trial or appeals process).

Amnesty International hosted last Thursday's meeting, at which several representatives from the U.S. anti-death penalty movement briefed Professor Alston about issues regarding the death penalty in this country: Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn of Amnesty International USA, Dick Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, Deborah Fleischaker of the ABA's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project, Diann Rust-Tierney of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and Renny Cushing of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights. You can read NCADP's report on the meeting here.

Renny reports that he was able to introduce the Special Rapporteur to MVFHR's work, explain our identity as both a victims' organization and a human rights organization, and tell about our current death penalty and mental illness project and our previous work with families of the execution. He gave Professor Alston and his staff copies of our report Creating More Victims: How Executions Hurt the Families Left Behind, which asserts that families of the executed ought to be viewed as victims under the UN Declaration of the Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.

Professor Alston noted that the execution of persons with mental illness and mental disabilities was an area that he was reviewing. He will issue a preliminary report on the death penalty in the U.S. next Monday and a full report some time afterward.

Here's Professor Alston with Renny Cushing:

And with Dick Dieter and Diann Rust-Tierney:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

55 Years Later

Today, MVFHR Board Vice-Chair Robert Meeropol marks the 55th anniversary of the U.S. government’s execution of his parents, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, by participating in a commemorative event in their honor at Parc Rosenberg, Bagneux, France. From there, he will proceed to Frankfurt (6/23), Milan (6/24) and Rome (6/26) for events to celebrate the release of the German and Italian translations of his memoir, An Execution in the Family: One Son's Memoir. The Rosenberg Fund for Children has details.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Across Borders, Languages, and Religions

For some time now, MVFHR has been an organizational member of the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN), and today our board member Toshi Kazama is traveling to Hong Kong to represent MVFHR at ADPAN's annual meeting.

Here's an excerpt from an article about ADPAN's work that appeared on the World Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty's site a couple of months ago:

The majority of executions take place in Asia. But this is also the continent where campaigners have developed a fantastic regional abolitionist network, one that reaches across borders, languages and religions.

This year, with the Beijing Olympic Games followed by the World Day Against the Death Penalty on 10th October, the World Coalition has decided to focus on Asia.

It has a worthy partner for its actions in ADPAN (Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network) of which it is a member. Their first joint action is an open letter to the Chinese authorities, sent in February to coincide with the National People's Congress, to demand more transparency on the use of the death penalty in China, to denounce the high number of crimes subject to the death penalty, and to demand a moratorium on executions.

Throughout the year, ADPAN will also pursue its own programme based on regional themes, on which it has concentrated its action since its creation two years ago: drug offences subject to the death penalty, transparency on the use of the death penalty, unfair trials, the fate of sentenced persons with mental illnesses, the automatic death penalty, and the recognition of victims' needs.

On this last issue, ADPAN is closely supported by the American group Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, a member of the World Coalition.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Japanese Gallery of Victims' Stories

A follow up to yesterday's post: the Japan Catholic Council for Justice and Peace, together with the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Japan and the Religious Network Against the Death Penalty, plans to publish 29 pages from MVFHR's Gallery of Victims' Stories. They will translate the text into Japanese and include an introduction as well.

We are excited to know that the voices of these U.S. victims' family members and families of the executed will be heard in Japan and can be used to help strengthen victim opposition to the death penalty there.

Monday, June 9, 2008

New Life and Hope

A year ago, the first MVFHR affiliate outside the U.S. was launched: the Japanese group Ocean, founded by victim's family member Masaharu Harada and other victims' family members, families of inmates, attorneys and human rights activists.

Our board member Toshi Kazama, who has been an essential support for Ocean, recently returned from a trip to Japan and reports that Ocean is planning to hold its first annual conference this July 26, in Tokyo. Victims' family members and families of inmates will speak, and it promises to be a groundbreaking event in a country that has never held this kind of conference before.

Here's the Japan Times article, announcing the formation of the group, that came out last June (before we were bloggers!):

Masaharu Harada's younger brother was 30 years old when he was brutally murdered in 1983. For years, Harada harbored a hatred against the killer, Toshihiko Hasegawa, hoping he would get the death penalty.

Hasegawa for his part tried to reach out to Harada after his trial began in 1984, continuously writing letters to apologize for his crime. Over nearly 10 years, Harada received about 150 letters from Hasegawa but threw most of them out because he did not want to read any apology from the man who killed his brother.

Yet as time passed, Harada started reading the letters and eventually began to respond to them. And in 1993, just one month before Hasegawa's death sentence was finalized, Harada decided to meet him face to face.

"Our life itself was completely destroyed because of Hasegawa and I was consumed with hatred," Harada told The Japan Times. "Honestly speaking, there is no way I could ever forgive him, even now. . . . But I wanted to know more about the crime and also felt that I had an account to settle with Hasegawa."

Harada met him four times, trying to come to terms with the murder and find out why he committed the crime. But then Hasegawa was abruptly hanged in 2001.

"The government deprived me of my opportunity to interact" with Hasegawa, Harada said. "Through the meetings, I was just beginning to understand who he was."

Based on his experience, Harada recently established Ocean, a support group not only for people victimized by crime but also for offenders and their kin. Harada said Ocean is "a symbol of new life and hope."

"I want Ocean to become a sort of oasis" for crime victims as well as offenders, Harada said. "And I believe it is necessary to create a place for crime victims and offenders to face each other and hold dialogue."

Ocean was created earlier this month with about 20 members, including crime victims and their relatives, as well as lawyers, journalists and academics.

It was launched as an affiliate of the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, whose members include not only crime victims and family members but also relatives of executed inmates. The group advocates an end to capital punishment. ...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sticking Their Necks Out

MVFHR member Azim Khamisa, whom we wrote about in the Preventing Violence series a while back, has been chosen as a "Giraffe Hero." The Giraffe Heroes project is a national nonprofit that commends people who "stick their necks out for the common good."

Here are a couple of excerpts from the write-up on the project's website:

The bare facts of the story are these: Azim Khamisa’s 20-year-old son, Tariq, was making a delivery for a San Diego pizza parlor when he was shot and killed in a failed robbery attempt by a gang. The killer was Ples Felix’s 14-year-old grandson and ward, Tony Hicks, who was sentenced as an adult for the murder and is now imprisoned.


Today Khamisa and Felix go again and again into schools—together—to talk to students about Tariq’s death and about gangs, to help the kids talk about the awful effects of violence on their own lives, and to affirm that they will avoid violence themselves. Kids hearing the two men’s story and seeing them working together also get an unforgettable picture of a response to violence that is not more violence and hatred.

Commenting on their work in schools, Khamisa says, “Every time you talk one youngster out of committing homicide, you save two.”

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Difficult Conversation

From yesterday's New Hampshire Union Leader:

Today marks the 20-year anniversary of Renny Cushing's father getting gunned down when he answered his front door in Hampton.

"Nothing prepares you to have a family member murdered," Cushing said in a recent phone interview.

"It challenges a lot of assumptions about your life," he said. "Part of what you have to do is claim control over your life."

Two neighbors, former Hampton police officer Robert McLaughlin Sr. and his wife, Susan, were convicted in the June 1, 1988, murder of Robert Cushing Sr.

Cushing did get to talk to Susan McLaughlin, who is serving a life sentence for accomplice to first-degree murder. Her husband was sentenced to life without parole.

"It was a difficult conversation, but I'm glad I did it," Cushing said. "I had some simple little questions I wanted answered and I wanted to move on. Some I got answered and some they weren't capable of giving answers."

The governor and Executive Council unanimously rejected Susan McLaughlin's request for a pardon hearing in 2003.

Cushing was part of the initial team that help set up the Victim-Offender Dialogue program in the state Corrections Department in 2002. He understood how difficult it was to try to reach his father's killer.

"That in itself was a bit of a journey to get through the bureaucracy," said Cushing, executive director of the Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights, which lobbies against the death penalty.

Read the entire article.