April, 2012, Update Newsletter
Volume VIII, No. 4 April, 2012
In This Issue...
- OADP Spawns Larger Coalition: Our new coalition partners, and how you can help propel us toward repeal.
- What About Victims? The important role that meeting the needs of survivors of homicide plays in our campaign for repeal.
- Death Penalty News from around the Nation... **Breaking news from Connecticut**, developments in Kansas, plus federal court rulings in the areas of mental competence, withholding of evidence, and lethal injection.
- ...And Around the World: A summary of Amnesty International's annual report on the death penalty around the globe.
- Upcoming Events in Oregon: Later this month, in Albany, Salem, Corvallis and Portland.
- Your Financial Support: Our opportunities and our needs have multiplied--how can you advance the cause of repeal?
The road map to repeal in Oregon is becoming more clear every day. When Governor Kitzhaber declared a moratorium on executions while he is in office, he also stated ... “I am calling on the legislature to bring potential reforms before the 2013 legislative session and encourage all Oregonians to engage in the long overdue debate that this important issue deserves.”
Since that date OADP has been promoting the debate that the Governor called for and has been making a strenuous effort to expand the conversation with more voices. Within the past 60 days a call has gone out for more active participation from interested people and organizations to “engage.” We have reached out with an aggressive agenda to partner with ACLU of Oregon, Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, Amnesty International, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, Oregon Defense Resource Center, Oregon Justice Resource Center and other organizations to join a larger coalition working toward repeal.
In order to accomplish our initiatives we need to do a lot of very hard work. In addition to a larger OADP board of directors and a cadre of important partner organizations, we need supporters of repeal to step up in many active ways. As OADP grows and our coalition of affiliated organizations grows, the job of promoting the “long overdue debate” becomes increasingly important.
While we are gaining considerable support for repeal, there is a large number of people as yet undecided about having a death penalty and a larger number of voters who have “weakly held views” for and against the death penalty who can be swayed in our direction by education of the facts that surround the death penalty. It is very important that we promote dialogue on all the issues surrounding the Oregon death penalty.
Below is a list of some of the important things that must be done during 2012 and leading up to the 2013 legislative session. Please consider how you can participate and respond directly to me at your earliest convenience. These are not the only things that will be helpful…..as active supporters you may have other ideas that we should be considering.
- Bring more “supporters” to OADP. Set a quota for you to recruit _____ number of people to sign up on the www.oadp.org web site.
- Bring more “supporting organizations” to OADP. We have increased from a handful of organizations less than two years ago, to nearly sixty (60) secular and faith communities listed on our web site…….we need 200 organizations by year’s end. If you are a member of an organization that supports social and criminal justice, bring them on board. If you are a member of a faith community, have that community listed on our web site.
- Help create and stage opportunities for people to gather and learn about the death penalty. Large or small groups, they are all important venues to get people to learn about the costly system of flawed justice that a death penalty represents. Make a goal and pledge to set up ______ such meetings. We have resources to help organize, provide speakers, literature, videos and promotion to help you with those meetings.
- Attend public events that discuss the death penalty and social justice issues. Having large numbers of supporters at such gatherings helps convince others that our position is valid. We will be providing more alerts about these events so that you know when and where they are being held.
- Help OADP raise money. As we grow, we most urgently need an executive director to help drive our efforts. The wonderful growth we have experienced in the past two years has been done without paid staff. To organize and run a state-wide campaign for repeal, it will take staff and resources for outreach.
- Become a writer……we need many voices coming forward with letters-to-editors, opinion pieces for media and blogs. Each of you receives this newsletter because of your commitment to repeal and your talents to provide assistance. Make a pledge to write and submit _________ articles for various uses.
- Help take us to a sophisticated level of social media usage. If you do not have these skills, maybe a younger family member or friend can be recruited to help in this endeavor.
- Volunteer your time to OADP in terms of tabling at public events, contacting prospective supporters, making calls to organizations that might be interested in our work…..join one of our committees. (call me and I will share with you the many opportunities).
- Become a “legislative champion,” in the sense of contacting your own Oregon Representative and Senator. It will be essential that we have individuals in every legislative district poised and ready to contact their legislators. To secure their support we will need constant contact from many people. Again, we can provide you with materials, talking points, contact information and what we know about their current positions on repeal. Legislators pay most attention to people in their districts who vote. As a “champion” you carry the message of OADP and our larger coalition in a more profound manner. Letters, emails, phone calls, personal visits, organizing neighbors who would visit as a group are all effective means. We need to use all of these channels of communications, with increasing frequency, as we get closer to the 2013 legislative session. That session begins less than ten months from now. We also have research that points out that voting to place repeal on the ballot is a “politically safe” position to take. Politicians need “political cover,” which you can provide.
Like the Governor called out to “encourage all Oregonians to engage in the long overdue debate that this important issue deserves,” I am now calling out to supporters of repeal to step up and join us at a higher level of commitment. A road map to success is in place. We need you now to help push us down the road to repeal.
Ron Steiner, OADP Chair (503) 990-7060 firstname.lastname@example.org
A policeman performing a routine traffic stop is shot and killed… a middle-aged couple returns home, surprising a burglar, who panics and shoots them, killing the husband… a young woman is abducted, raped and then murdered so she cannot identify her assailant. Each murder ends the life of a victim, and leaves in its wake a trail of additional victims.
The closest and most dependent relatives of the deceased—spouses, children, parents—suffer the most devastating loss. Not only are they deprived of a person around whom their emotional lives centered, but they may also have lost much or all of their economic support as well. All their hopes for the future—indeed their very survival—are threatened. And when they are least prepared to cope with it, they are thrust into the public eye through media coverage and an intrusive and impersonal law enforcement and criminal justice system that focuses far more on its own ends than on meeting their emotional and financial needs.
To a lesser extent, other family and friends are also affected. Every murder victim may have anywhere from a few to hundreds of family and friends who experience a grievous personal loss. Indeed, the entire community feels a diminished sense of safety and trust.
We in the death penalty abolition community have many reasons to oppose capital punishment, but first and foremost among those reasons should be what it does to the surviving family and friends of homicide victims. According to our friends and partners at Murder Victim Families for Reconciliation, the death penalty:
- Promises justice and closure but delivers neither.
- Often complicates the grief process and interferes with healing.
- Distracts attention from the many needs of murder victim family members and diverts resources from meeting those needs.
- Divides family members who desperately need each other’s support.
As an abolition community, our pre-eminent goals should be 1) to reduce the level of violence in our communities, and 2) to alleviate the suffering of those who are victims of violent crime. We oppose the death penalty because it advances neither goal. We know from many sources that it fails to deter homicide, and it is plausible to believe that our institutionalization of violence in our justice system actually serves to legitimize and encourage it in the community. And while at first blush the death penalty might appeal to the anger and pain felt by the surviving family members of homicide victims, sober reflection and experience lead to the conclusion, in the bullet points listed above, that the death penalty exacerbates rather than alleviates their suffering.
Sr. Helen Prejean has taught us, since the very beginning of her work, that meeting the needs of murder victim family members is a moral imperative for the abolition community. Whether they agree or disagree with our views on the death penalty, those who have lost loved ones to murder deserve our compassion, support and tangible assistance.
OADP is looking for ways that we can support victims’ assistance programs around the state. We’re setting up a new page on our website (www.oadp.org) devoted to this subject. Please check it out and investigate how you can support the organizations that serve victims of violent crime in your community. When you do, please identify yourself as a member of OADP, and let them know that you oppose the death penalty because you would prefer to see the resources currently spent pursuing executions redirected to meeting the needs of victims.
And please be sure to let us know of your activities by email to email@example.com.
The Connecticut Legislative Judicial Committee recently passed a resolution to repeal that state’s death penalty. **BREAKING NEWS:** The Senate passed the repeal bill 20-16 on April 4. It now goes to the House, where organizers are optimistic about passage. Governor Dan Malloy has indicated he will sign the bill, which would make Connecticut the fifth state in seven years to repeal its death penalty.
Retired District Judge Steven Becker, along with prosecutors, defense lawyers, and religious leaders, recently testified at a legislative hearing in Kansas in favor of a bill to repeal the death penalty. Judge Becker commented, "As long as the death penalty is a part of our imperfect system, there will always be the unacceptable possibility of the execution of an innocent person." Ron Wurtz, a federal public defender and a former director of the state’s Death Penalty Defense Unit, highlighted the ongoing risks of executing innocent defendants: "The American people have seen the ongoing releases from death row. About one release for wrongful conviction for every nine executions." Other groups voicing their concerns with the state’s death penalty were the Kansas Catholic Conference, the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the League of Women Voters.
On January 23, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by the state of Ohio challenging the unconditional writ of habeas corpus and bar to the re-prosecution of Joe D'Ambrosio, thus ending the capital case. He has now been freed from death row with all charges dismissed. A federal District Court had first overturned D'Ambrosio's conviction in 2006 because the state had withheld key evidence from the defense. The federal court originally allowed the state to re-prosecute him, but just before trial the state revealed the existence of even more important evidence and requested further delay. D’Ambrosio was in prison for 23 years when all charges were dismissed and he was released.
The U.S. Supreme Court also granted review in two cases from Arizona and Ohio to explore whether death penalty appeals can continue if the defendant is mentally incompetent. Under the Court’s prior rulings in Ford v Wainwright (1986) and in Atkins v Virginia (2002), defendants cannot be executed if they are insane or intellectually disabled (mentally retarded). The new cases, Ryan v Gonzalez and Tibbals v Carter, will decide whether mentally incompetent death row inmates are entitled to a stay of federal habeas proceedings because they cannot assist their counsel. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth and Sixth Circuits found that the defendants’ competency was necessary during federal habeas review, thus staying the proceedings indefinitely. The cases will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in its next term beginning in October.
Washington D.C. …
A U.S. District Court judge barred U.S. authorities from importing anesthesia drugs used in carrying out death sentences because the Food and Drug Administration never approved the drug for use in the United States, and he ordered supplies be confiscated. A group of death row inmates had sued the FDA last year over improperly allowing shipments into the country of sodium thiopental, a sedative used as the first of three drugs administered in carrying out executions.
A year ago, state officials in Tennessee and Kentucky turned over their supplies of the drug to the FDA amid an investigation into how it was imported. U.S. authorities seized a supply of thiopental from state of Georgia. The FDA had sought to have the challenge dismissed, arguing that it was using its discretion by allowing the shipments into the country and also that it deferred to law enforcement with respect to the drugs used for executions.
Judge Leon ordered that the FDA notify all state correctional departments with Thiopental made overseas that they are not allowed to use it and that they must return their supplies to the agency immediately. With the supply of thiopental dwindling, Leon noted, some states have switched to pentobarbital to sedate death row inmates before they are injected with the cocktail of other drugs used to carry out death sentences. The Justice Department, which represented the FDA in the case, could appeal the decision.
The Death Penalty In 2011: Three Things You Should Know
Every year around this time, Amnesty International releases its annual survey of capital punishment worldwide. As in previous years, the report – Death Sentences and Executions in 2011 – shows that support for executions continued to diminish, and that the U.S. is in the wrong company but moving in the right direction. There are three main takeaways from this year’s report.
1. Globally, the use of the death penalty remained in decline. At the end of 2011 there were 140 countries considered abolitionist in law or practice (it’s now 141 with the addition of Mongolia), while only 20 countries were known to have put prisoners to death. Only in the tumultuous Middle East was there an increase in executions.
2. The United States remained in its dubious place on this fundamental human rights issue. The U.S. was the only country in the Western hemisphere or the G8 to kill its prisoners, and was responsible for the fifth most known executions in the world, behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. (As an independent country, Texas would have ranked 7th, between North Korea and Somalia, with its 13 executions in 2011.)
3. On the other hand, there were unmistakable signs of a substantially reduced enthusiasm for the death penalty in the U.S. In March, Illinois become the 16th state to abolish the death penalty, and in November, Oregon’s Governor declared a moratorium on executions. Nationwide, executions were down slightly (43 compared to 46 in 2010), and death sentences were way down (78 compared to 104 in 2010 and 158 in 2001). The execution of Troy Davis in September was accompanied by an unprecedented outpouring of opposition, and a Gallup poll showed support for the death penalty at its lowest ebb since 1972.
As more states approach the finish line of death penalty abolition, and as more injustices in capital cases are exposed, these trends in the U.S. – mirroring global trends – are likely to continue. The U.S. may still be at the back of the abolition train, but at least it’s on the right track.
- Wednesday, April 11, 7 PM, Albany Library…21450 14th Av. SE. Sponsored by the Albany Peace Seekers, with featured speaker Mr. Frank Thompson, former Superintendent of the Oregon State Prison. Group discussion will be a part of the evening.
- Wednesday, April 25, 12 Noon, (Salem) Willamette University, Montag Den in Doney Hall. As a part of Crime Victim Rights Week, the Oregon Department of Justice Crime Victim’s Services will conduct its annual ceremony to honor individuals who advocate for victims and promote victims’ rights in Oregon.
- Thursday April 26, 7 PM, Corvallis Library. "Oregonians engage in long overdue debate on the death penalty.” Speakers include Aba Gayle, a murder victim family member, Rev. Dan Bryant, Pastor of the Springfield First Christian Church and Ron Steiner, of OAPD, along with open discussion on the pros and cons of the Oregon death penalty.
- Sunday May 6th, 11:30 AM, St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church Calvin Hall, 3228 SW Sunset Blvd., Portland 97239, "A Death Penalty Conversation with People of Faith." Chances are the issue of abolishing the death penalty will be back on Oregon’s ballot before too long. People of faith must begin a conversation about the death penalty. Join in the conversation and a presentation on the approach of differing faiths to the death penalty. The speaker will be Terrie Rodello, Oregon State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Amnesty International since 2005 and an OADP board member. Questions? Contact Rebecca Nasson, 503-477-7329 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
OADP is able to advocate for death penalty repeal only because of the financial contributions of supporters like you. With Governor Kitzhaber's bold announcement of his support of repeal, our opportunities and our needs have multiplied. There is a great deal to do if we are to place a measure on the ballot in the near future.
Please consider how you can help us raise the funds to educate Oregonians that we will all be safer without the death penalty. If you know anyone who is able to make a large donation, or many people who can make smaller ones, your active commitment to this cause is necessary to our success.
Thank you for considering what you can do to move us forward.