Friday, February 20, 2009

Report from Montana

MVFHR member Marietta Jaeger Lane writes with this update about her and others' involvement in the efforts to pass the death penalty repeal bill in Montana:

In October, "The Journey of Hope..From Violence to Healing" toured Montana for ten days, touching hearts and changing minds. Our local organizers did a fantastic job arranging events all over the state, focusing on "hard-headed" areas as much as possible. Then in February, when we knew that lawmakers were going to be voting on an abolition bill, several of us began doing public education events and meetings, including speaking directly with the Governor.

On February 3, I was part of a group that spoke to a well-attended panel discussion at Carroll College, a Catholic Diocesan university in Helena. The speakers were:

Ron McAndrew, ex-Florida death row warden, who oversaw 3 electric chair executions -- one of which men he felt was innocent, but the governor insisted that the execution proceed anyhow, and one whose execution was botched, literally cooking the poor guy to death for 1/2 hour. That was it for Ron!

Senator Dave Wanzenreid, (D), sponsor of our bill -- a great man!

Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, from North Carolina. You all may have heard about her before, but I never had. Jennifer brought a very important perspective that in the thirty-plus years I've been speaking on this issue I not only had not ever even considered but had not ever heard! Twenty-some years ago, she was raped by an intruder she awoke to find in her bed in the middle of the night. Because he held a knife against her throat, she had no choice but to submit without struggle. However, as terrified as she was, she managed to remain calm and had the presence of mind to make a concerted effort to remember all the details of his face and body that she could discern in the dark, hoping that the time and occasion would come when she could properly identify him. Can you imagine the self-control that must have taken?!!

That time did come and Jennifer was able to positively identify her rapist not once, but twice in a lineup. Although insisting on his innocence, the man was charged, sentenced and was serving his ELEVENTH year in prison when he realized that another inmate in prison with him had actually been the rapist. DNA evidence proved that to be the case and finally the man Jennifer had so positively identified was released.

Jennifer was in anguish that, as honestly certain as she had been that he was the "right" man, he had in fact been cheated out of 11 years of his life because of her testimony. However, she was also fearful that he would come looking for her now for "payback time.” While she was struggling with what she should do, the man's pastor contacted her about meeting with her "accused rapist" at the church rectory. With strong mixed emotions of repentance and fear, she did go. To her amazement, the man told her that he held nothing against her, he didn't blame her for her mistake, was not out to get even, and finally said, "I forgive you!" What a good heart that man had! The two have now become good friends, keep in touch at least once a week, and sometimes even speak together.

The man's last name is Cotton, and Jennifer's book about the whole experience is coming out in March. It's called "Picking Cotton" -- such a clever title! She's a very special woman, very articulate and wondrously humble to stand up before everyone and admit what her mistake cost a good man.

We also had an exoneree, Ray Krone, speak, with a knock-out presentation. He did an excellent job speaking, testifying, and lobbying the whole time he was here. A Pennsylvanian, he's the 100th person to be released from death row.

I also spoke for the victims' families.

As you probably already know, the Committee passed our abolition bill, SB236, 7-5 (the 5 = all Republicans). On Monday afternoon, 2/16, the whole Senate debated the bill. Ironically, one Senator quoted the passage from Shakespeare's "Hamlet", re "The quality of mercy..." and then announced he was opposing our bill. Huh?! After a lengthy discussion, we held our breaths as the vote was taken and the yeas and nays lighted up the wall next to each Senator's name. Yahoo! We won, 27-23! All the Democrats and six Republicans were on our side; the rest of the Republicans voted against us. The next morning, the Senate "third reading" was held, (no discussion) with identical results.

Now, we're waiting for transmittal of our bill to the House of Representatives and a date to be set for testimonies to be given to their Judiciary Committee. Keep those prayers and positive vibes a'comin' for us and New Mexico!!

At the Carroll College event: Ron McAndrew, Marietta Jaeger Lane, Senator Dave Wanzenreid, Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, and Ray Krone

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