Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cities for Life

Today is the Community of Sant'Egidio's annual day of Cities for Life - Cities Against the Death Penalty, when well over a thousand cities around the world hold events and gatherings calling for an end to the death penalty. Many, such as the event at the Roman Colosseum, involve the lighting of a public monument. Illinois MVFHR member Cathy Crino will be joining with many others to participate in that special occasion, and MVFHR board member Bill Pelke is in Germany participating in Sant'Egidio's speaking tour there.

Also today, Massachusetts MVFHR member Bob Curley will be the speaker at an event, "A Journey from Death to Life," held at Boston College and organized by The Community of Sant'Egidio in Boston. Bob, who was initially a supporter of the death penalty following his son Jeffrey's murder in 1997, has spoken widely, in many venues around the world, but Boston College has a special resonance because it was where he first announced publicly, ten years ago, that he had changed his mind and was now an opponent of the death penalty. You can read more about Bob's journey in Brian Macquarrie's book The Ride.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"I simply cannot participate"

"[[The death penalty] has been carried out just twice in last 49 years in Oregon. Both were during my first administration as Governor, one in 1996 and the other in 1997. I allowed those sentences to be carried out despite my personal opposition to the death penalty. I was torn between my personal convictions about the morality of capital punishment and my oath to uphold the Oregon constitution.

"They were the most agonizing and difficult decisions I have made as Governor and I have revisited and questioned them over and over again during the past 14 years. I do not believe that those executions made us safer; and certainly they did not make us nobler as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong."

MVFHR joins many other organizations in thanking Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber for his decision yesterday to halt executions in the state. Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (OADP) has news and information about this momentous decision, the work that led up to it, and the further examination of the death penalty that lies ahead in Oregon.

MVFHR board member Aba Gayle, who also serves on the board of OADP, has been part of the effort to stop executions in Oregon. For more voices of Oregon victims' family members, vist MVFHR's Gallery of Victims' Stories.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Take care of all victims

From today's Baltimore Sun, this opinion piece by Vivian Penda, "For the sake of victims' families, repeal the death penalty":

I always thought murder was something that happened to other families. You read about it in the paper. You see the legal process unfold on TV. There's so much attention paid to certain murders that you assume the families going through their tragedy are getting support and help.

Then my son, Dennis, was murdered in 2002, and I learned how little support there actually is. Losing Dennis rests heavily with me every day. His murder received no notice, and our family was left to grieve on our own.

It turns out that my experience is not unusual. Only a small fraction of Maryland's 400-plus murders each year generate headlines. For those with the knowledge and means to access help, there is a patchwork of government and nonprofit services to help victims' families cope with their loss.

For too many of us, there is none of that.

We fail the families of too many murder victims at the moment when they need our support most. Murder traumatizes families, isolating survivors in their pain. Many survivors face trouble just getting out of bed, much less figuring out where to find and fight for grief counseling and other needed services.

Instead of providing comprehensive support to all surviving families of murder victims, Maryland has opted to maintain a costly death penalty that throws millions of dollars at just a few cases. A 2008 study commissioned by the Abell Foundation found that the average death penalty case adds almost $2 million extra to the state's costs, and that having the punishment has cumulatively cost the state $186 million.

I find this use of state resources offensive. Many murder victims come from low-income families. And although three-quarters of murder victims in Maryland are African-American, the five men currently on death row are all there for murdering white Marylanders.

Some say the death penalty offers justice to victims, but with the majority of people on death row still there after decades, even the cases that do result in execution impose a cruel wait on the victims' families. Changes to our state's death penalty law enacted in 2009 have only prolonged this.

Why do we choose to pursue a small handful of death sentences at a cost of millions and millions of dollars, all while tormenting the victims in the process? Those millions could instead help all victims' families with their trauma, and prevent crime so there aren't as many victims in the future. Why don't we invest to break the cycle of grief and violence, making for healthier and safer communities for all of us?

The ugly truth is that capital punishment elevates a few murders, leaving the rest of us to suffer without recognition. The effort to identify the "worst of the worst" rests on a false assumption that some murders are simply ordinary. What mother is going to agree that her little girl or boy's murder was ordinary? All murders are horrible and leave behind a family in grief, a family overwhelmed by a heartache we all hope to never face.

In 2008, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, having heard testimony from many survivors of murder victims, concluded that capital cases are more detrimental to surviving families than life-without-parole cases. The commission recommended repealing the death penalty and using the resulting savings to increase resources and services for surviving families.

This is why the 2012 death penalty repeal bill will include funds to aid murder victims' families. I will be working with other family members who have lost loved ones to violence to pass this bill next year.

In a time of shrinking resources, we need to make choices. Instead of pursuing a handful of executions that may not take place for decades, let's take care of the thousands of families across Maryland who have been hurt by violent crime. Let's take care of all of us.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Welcome to our new board members

We would like to welcome three new members to MVFHR's Board of Directors:

Long-time abolitionist
Aba Gayle also serves on the boards of Oregonians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, The World Forgiveness Initiative, and The Catherine Blount Foundation, named for Aba Gayle's 19-year-old daughter who was murdered in California in 1980. In this issue of the MVFHR newsletter, Aba Gayle talks about how she initially felt pressured to support the death penalty for her daughter's killer, and how she came to change her mind.

James Staub is active with Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. James was 12 years old when his mother, Patricia Staub, was murdered in 1985, and to this day the murder rrmains unsolved. In this issue of MVFHR"s newsletter, James speaks about how an unsolved murder affects a survivor.

Yolanda Littlejohn's sister Jacquetta Thomas was murdered in North Carolina in 1991. Two men were arrested for her murder. One was never convicted; the other was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. In 2009, he was exonerated and released from prison when DNA evidence proved that he could not have been the killer. The murder of Jacquetta Thomas is now a cold case – an unsolved homicide. Yolanda has been active in the effort to repeal North Carolina’s death penalty and speaks frequently to groups, telling her story and discussing the effects of exoneration on victims’ families.

We are honored to have these three new members join our Board, and we know that MVFHR will be even stronger and more effective because of their contributions.

Not the direction I want

From Monday's KSFY (ABC) news in South Dakota, "Victim's family reacts to state seeking death penalty for inmate":

Family members of 75-year-old Maybelle Schein are reacting to the state's decision to seek the death penalty for accused murderer James McVay.

The Minnehaha County States Attorney's office filed the paperwork on that decision Monday.

Police say 41-year-old McVay stabbed Schein to death in her Sioux Falls home and then stole her car.

We talked to Schein's cousin, Robin Prunty on the phone. She didn't want to go on camera.

Here's what she had to say when we ask her about the state seeking the death penalty.

"That's not the direction I want it to go. Being in prison for the rest of his life is OK and enough. Do we need to put him to death? I don't think so. It won't make me feel any better," Robin Prunty said.

Read the rest.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Speaking in Pennsylvania

In recent weeks, MVFHR board member Walt Everett has told his story to a variety of audiences in his home state of Pennsylvania. Walt spoke at two Bucknell University events, and he was one of several speakers at a "Day of Responsibility" event held at a local prison; about 60 inmates attended. Then in late October, Walt was the luncheon speaker at NAMI-Pennsylvania's Criminal Justice Symposium.

MVFHR has been collaborating with NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) on the national level since 2008, when we launched the "Prevention, Not Execution" project. We are pleased to see that collaboration continue and look forward to more opportunities to address NAMI's state and local groups.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The ultimate violation

MVFHR member Aba Gayle is featured in this article in the 10/30/11 Oregon Statesman Journal, "From hate to healing":

For years, Aba Gayle "lusted for revenge" against the California death- row inmate who murdered her 19-year-old daughter.
But everything changed when she mailed the killer a letter, saying she forgave him.
Paying visits to San Quentin prison, Gayle befriended the man she once despised and wanted put to death.
As hate gave way to healing, she turned against the death penalty.
Now, the 77-year-old Silverton woman is a leader of a nonprofit Oregon advocacy organization that is seeking to abolish the death penalty here.
Even though condemned killers rarely are executed in Oregon, Gayle says it's time for Oregonians to repeal the law that allows state-sanctioned killing.
As she tells it, the ultimate punishment should be scrapped because it sucks taxpayer dollars, undermines human values and takes revenge in arbitrary fashion. "It truly is the ultimate violation of human rights," she said. "It is horrendous to think that when they kill somebody at the penitentiary, they do it in the name of the citizens. I don't want anybody killed in my name."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Working with the Catholic Mobilizing Network

MVFHR Board Chair Vicki Schieber has been working extensively with the Catholic Mobilizing Network Against the Death Penalty, and is in the midst of a series of speaking events in connection with that effort. This past Saturday she was the keynote speaker at a Respect Life conference in Cincinnati, and over the next couple of weeks she will be speaking as part of the National Conference of Catholic Women conference and an event called "Unimpeachable Voices Against the Death Penalty."

You can see the upcoming schedule, and other news from the Catholic Mobilizing Network, here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A broken promise

From today's California Progress Report, "Murder Victim Mom Against the Death Penalty," by Lorrain Taylor:

My twin sons, Albade and Obadiah, were just 22 years old when they were gunned down on the streets of East Oakland. Both students, Albade attending Merritt College and Obadiah studying to open his own barber shop, they had stopped on the side of the road to fix Obadiah’s stalled car when somebody shot and killed them at close range. The pain I feel for the loss of my sons will never go away. It is made even worse when I hear, almost daily, that another mother in California has lost her child to violence that has taken so many lives.

The person who killed my twin sons likely still walks the street today. Like the death of my sons, a shocking 46% of murders in California each year go unsolved, along with 56% of reported rapes. In this time of economic crisis, budgets for local law enforcement have been slashed repeatedly. Instead of hiring more officers to investigate open homicide cases, we are forced to lay off the very people who could catch these killers. Instead of testing each rape kit, they languish on shelves while the perpetrator remains free to attack another person.

While these criminals are still walking our streets, California continues to waste precious money on a broken death penalty system. Every year, California throws away $184 million dollars on 714 people that are already locked up behind bars instead of investing money in public safety programs that work. Since 1978 when the death penalty was reinstated, we have spent over 4 billion taxpayer dollars for 13 executions. For the cost of one execution, we could be employing nearly 6,000 police officers to patrol our streets, solve more serious crimes, and bring justice to more families.

The death penalty is a broken promise. It does not make our streets safer and it takes away resources from things that prevent violence, like keeping our kids in school and putting cops on the street. It also denies justice for thousands of grieving mothers who, like me, will never see their children’s murderer be held accountable for their crimes.

This is why I support the SAFE California Act (Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement for California Act). SAFE California is a ballot initiative that will replace the death penalty with life without possibility of parole. By replacing the death penalty with life without possibility of parole, California will save an estimated $1 billion over the next five years. In addition, it will allocate $100 million to local law enforcement to investigate unsolved murders and rapes.

A sentence of life without the possibility of parole offers swift and certain justice. It also means that inmates will work in prison and pay money into the victim compensation fund as restitution. This money can help families of murder victims receive badly needed counseling services and pay for burial expenses. ...

Read the whole article.