Month: June 2013

First US man released by DNA evidence after being on death row celebrates 20th year


june 28, 2013

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A man who was on Maryland’s death row for a murder he didn’t commit is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his release.

Kirk Bloodsworth is marking the anniversary on Friday, just months after Maryland banned the death penalty.

Bloodsworth, who recently moved from Maryland to Philadelphia to be director of advocacy for Witness to Innocence, was twice convicted of a girl’s 1984 murder. He spent two years on death row following his first trial. A second trial brought another conviction, although he received a life sentence instead of capital punishment.

Bloodsworth was cleared in 1993, becoming the first American freed because of DNA evidence after being convicted in a death penalty case.

Reflecting on his experience, Bloodsworth says: “If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”

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Ex-Texas Warden Reflects After 140 Executions-Charles Thomas O’Reilly


June 27, 2013  AP

Charles Thomas O’Reilly supported capital punishment when he oversaw his first Texas execution. And he still supported it after his 100th.

In six years as warden of the Huntsville Unit, the prison that houses Texas’ death chamber, O’Reilly supervised about 140 executions — more than any other warden in state history.

Now retired, he reflected on his career this week as the nation’s busiest death penalty state as the state executed its 500th inmate since resuming capital punishment in 1982.

The 62-year-old said he has no regrets about a process he considered to be a relatively unemotional and small part of his job.

If you do 140 of them and then decide you can’t do them, then I think you’ve pushed it a little too far,” O’Reilly said during an interview with The Associated Press in Forney, about 175 miles away from Huntsville. “If you can’t do it, you should have made that decision after one, or maybe two.”

O’Reilly, who retired in 2010, recalled meeting condemned inmates when they arrived at Huntsville the afternoon of their executions.

“I’ll tell him that we’re going to treat him with as much dignity as he’ll allow us to,” O’Reilly said. Then at 6 p.m., he would return to the inmate’s holding cell and say two words: “It’s time.”

Texas 500th Execution Warden.JPEG

A five-man team walked each inmate to the death chamber and tied the prisoner to a gurney. Other staff members ran IV lines for the execution drugs.

Before the lethal injection began, O’Reilly would ask the inmate for any last words. He liked to give each inmate about three minutes, though he rarely cut anyone off.

Once the inmate’s final statement was complete, O’Reilly used a hand-held clicker to signal to the drug room that it was time to start. Minutes later, he would signal to a doctor to check the inmate’s pulse and declare him dead.

Relatives of the condemned inmates and victims typically watched through a window.

“There’s not a lot said,” O’Reilly said. “Everybody knows their job, knows how to do it, when to do it.”

He does not remember the name of the first inmate executed during his tenure, but a few names stand out. They include Frances Newton, the only woman executed on his watch. Condemned to death for killing her husband and two children, she was executed in 2005, becoming just the third woman put to death since Texas resumed capital punishment.

O’Reilly said he was more concerned with making sure executions were done professionally. He recalls the professionalism of the prison chaplain and the staff he hand-picked to assist with executions.

Speaking in a low Texas drawl, O’Reilly’s voice hardens when asked about his personal views on the death penalty. He said it’s the appropriate way to deal with society’s worst criminals, such as someone who rapes and kills a 7-year-old girl.

“As far as I’m concerned, that person probably got a just punishment for the crime that he committed,” O’Reilly said. “Like me or anybody else, we all have to take responsibility for our own actions. Our actions are our choice. The consequences for those actions are not our choice.”

Although the fight over the death penalty is often heated, O’Reilly said the process of an execution is quiet and simple.

“It doesn’t take long. There’s not a lot said,” O’Reilly said. “All you’re going to do there is watch a guy go to sleep.”

Death Row Prisoner William Van Poyck’s Final Farewell


June 26, 2013 truthdig.com

On June 12, the state of Florida executed William Van Poyck. Van Poyck was convicted of killing a corrections officer during a failed attempt to free a prisoner in 1987. He spent 26 years on death row. From 2005 on, he recorded his observations and reflections from inside America’s system of capital punishment in a blog called Death Row Diary.

 

In a May article, Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges wrote that Van Poyck “spent years exposing the cruelty of our system of mass incarceration.” He “was one of the few inside the system to doggedly bear witness to the abuse and murder of prisoners on death row.”

 

On June 25, Van Poyck’s sister published his final two letters, addressed to her. We reprint them here in full.

June 3, 2013

Dear Sis~

Ten days ‘till departure time. You already know that they killed my neighbor, Elmer, 5 days ago. Then they moved me into his cell. After they execute someone they move the rest of us down one cell, working our way to cell#1, the launching pad to the gurney next door. This is a bad luck cell; very few of us get out of here alive!  In two days I’ll go onto Phase II and they’ll move all  my property from my cell, and post a guard in front of my cell 24/7 to record everything I do. These will be hectic days, freighted with emotion, all the final letters, all the final phone calls, final visits, final goodbyes. Things have become even more regimented as “established procedures” increasingly take over. More cell front visits from high ranking administration and DOC officials asking if everything is O.K., forms to fill out (cremation or burial?). I declined the offer of a “last meal”. I’m not interested in participating in that time-worn ritual, to feed some reporter’s breathless post-execution account. Besides, material gratification will be the last thing on my mind as I prepare to cross over to the non-material planes. Watching Elmer go through his final days really drove home how ritualized this whole process has become; the ritual aspect perhaps brings some numbing comfort – or sense of purpose – to those not really comfortable with this whole killing people scheme. This is akin to participating in a play where the participants step to a rote cadence, acting out their parts in the script, with nobody pausing to question the underlying premise. It’s like a Twilight Zone episode where you want to grab someone, shake them hard, and yell “Hey, wake up! Don’t you know what’s going on here?!!!”

My very accelerated appeal is before the Florida Supreme Court; my brief is due today, (Monday), the state’s brief tomorrow and oral arguments are scheduled for Thursday June 6th (D-Day Anniversary). I expect an immediate ruling, or perhaps on Friday. By the time you read this you’ll already know the result and since there’s no higher court to go to on this you’ll know if I live or die on June 12th. I am not optimistic, Sis. Although I have some substantial, compelling issues, as you know (e.g., my appointed direct appeal attorney who turned out to be a mentally ill, oft-hospitalized, crack head, convicted of cocaine possession and subsequently disbarred whose incompetence sabotaged my appeal) the law provides the courts with countless ways to deny a prisoner any appellate review of even the most meritorious claims. I won’t turn this into a discourse on legal procedures; but many years of observation has taught me that once a death warrant is signed it’s near impossible to stop the  momentum of that train. Issues that would normally offer you some relief, absent a warrant, suddenly become “meritless” under the tension of a looming execution date. Nobody wants to be the one to stop an execution, it’s almost sacrilegious.

 

So many people are praying and fighting to save my life that I am loathe to express any pessimism, as if that’s a betrayal of those supporting me. And, there is some hope, at least for a stay of execution. But honestly my worst fear is a temporary stay of 20, 30 days. Unless a stay results in my lawyers digging up some new, previously undiscovered substantial claim that will get me a new sentencing hearing, a stay simply postpones the inevitable. What I don’t want is to be back here in the same position in 30 days, forcing you and all my loved ones to endure another heart-breaking cycle of final goodbyes. I cannot ask that of them. I’d rather just go on June 12th and get this over with. This may be disappointing to those who are trying so hard to extend my life, even for a few days, but there it is.

 

Time – that surprisingly subjective, abstract concept – is becoming increasingly compressed for me. I’m staying rooted in the here and now, not dwelling on the past or anxiously peering into the future, but inhabiting each unfolding moment as it arrives in my consciousness (F.Y.I., I highly recommend The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle, for anyone facing imminent execution!) I’m still able to see the beauty of this world, and value the kindness of the many beautiful souls who work tirelessly to make this a better place. I am calm and very much at peace, Sis, so don’t worry about my welfare down here on death watch. I will endure this without fear, and with as much grace as I can summon. Whatever happens, it’s all good, it’s just the way it’s supposed to be.

Much Love,
Bill

 

* * * 

June 12, 2013

 

Dear Sis,

 

If you are reading this, I have gone the way of the earth, my atonement fulfilled. When your tears have dried—as they will—and you look up at the sky, allow yourself to smile when you think of me, free at last. Though I have departed my physical vehicle, know that my soul—timeless, boundless and eternal—soars joyfully among the stars.

 

Despite my many flaws on earth, I was blessed to be loved by so many special souls who saw past my feet of clay and into my heart. Know that in my final hours, it was that love which sustained my spirit and brought me peace. Love, like our souls, is eternal and forever binds us, and in due time it will surely draw us all back together again. Until then, Godspeed to you and all who have loved me!

Light & Love,
Bill

Kimberly McCarthy put to death in 500th Texas execution since 1982


june 26,2013

Last Statement:

I just wanted to say thanks to all who have supported me over the years: Reverend Campbell, for my spiritual guidance; Aaron, the father of Darrian, my son; and Maurie, my attorney. Thank you everybody. This is not a loss, this is a win. You know where I am going. I am going home to be with Jesus. Keep the faith. I love ya’ll. Thank you, Chaplain.

She was pronounced dead at 6:37 p.m. CDT, 20 minutes after Texas prison officials began administering a single lethal dose of pentobarbital.

Original post 2:43 p.m.:

HUNTSVILLE – Kimberly McCarthy has arrived at the Texas prison nicknamed “the Walls Unit” where she is expected to be executed tonight for the 1997 murder of Dorothy Booth in Lancaster.

Dorothy Booth

McCarthy will be the 500th person executed in Texas since the death penalty was reinstated.

McCarthy’s trip to the death chamber is being treated no differently by the prison system than the one before it or the one that will come next. But McCarthy’s execution is gaining more outside attention because of the milestone.

“We are treating this execution as we do all the others,” said John Hurt, director of public information for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “We realize that there will probably be more interest from the public than usual, but we expect the McCarthy execution to proceed in the same manner as any other.”

McCarthy can meet with her spiritual adviser and attorney before the execution, which is scheduled for around 6 p.m. No appeals are pending, so the execution by lethal injection is expected to take place, barring unforeseen circumstances.She will also speak to the warden about what will happen to her body and who is witnessing the execution. She can make telephone calls to say goodbye.

Kimberly McCarthy is scheduled to be executed Wednesday for the murder of her neighbor, Dorothy Booth. If the execution is carried out, she will be the 500th person executed in Texas since they death penalty was reinstated.

She has been given a new white prison uniform and can eat the same meal offered to all other inmates: pepper steak, mashed potatoes with gravy, mixed veggies and white cake with chocolate icing.

“And she will walk unrestrained into the execution chamber,” said Jason Clark, a public information officer with the prison system.

Her execution is expected to be witnessed by the family, of Booth, a retired college professor.

Texas has carried out nearly 40 percent of the more than 1,300 executions in the U.S. since the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976. The state’s standing stems from its size as the nation’s second-most populous state as well as its tradition of tough justice for killers.

Ex-Virginia executioner becomes opponent of death penalty – Jerry Givens


Jerry Givens executed 62 people.
His routine and conviction never wavered. He’d shave the person’s head, lay his hand on the bald pate and ask for God’s forgiveness for the condemned. Then, he would strap the person into Virginia’s electric chair.
Givens was the state’s chief executioner for 17 years — at a time when the commonwealth put more people to death than any state besides Texas.
“If you knew going out there that raping and killing someone had the consequence of the death penalty, then why are you going to do it?” Givens asked. “I considered it suicide.”
As Virginia executed its 110th person in the modern era last month, Givens prayed for the man, but also for an end to the death penalty. Since leaving his job in 1999, Givens has become one of the state’s most visible — and unlikely — opponents of capital punishment.
Givens’s improbable journey to the death chamber and back did not come easily or quickly for the 60-year-old from Richmond. A searing murder spurred his interest in the work, but it was the innocent life he nearly took that led him to question the system. And he was changed for good when he found himself behind bars.
His evolution underscores that of Virginia itself and the nation. Although polls show that the majority of state residents still support the death penalty, Virginia has experienced a sea change on capital punishment in recent years that is part of a national trend.
Givens grew up in the Creighton Court housing complex in Richmond, where he also graduated from high school in the early 1970s. By 1974, he had gotten a job at a Philip Morris plant and then lost it after fighting with a co-worker.
He recalled someone telling him that he should apply for a job at the state penitentiary before he got sent there. Givens did just that.
After two years as a prison guard, he said, a supervisor approached him about working on death row. He would not be paid extra, but he accepted the job.

“If you knew going out there that raping and killing someone had the consequence of the death penalty, then why are you going to do it?” Givens asked. “I considered it suicide.”

As Virginia executed its 110th person in the modern era last month, Givens prayed for the man, but also for an end to the death penalty. Since leaving his job in 1999, Givens has become one of the state’s most visible — and unlikely — opponents of capital punishment.

His evolution underscores that of Virginia itself and the nation. Although polls show that the majority of state residents still support the death penalty, Virginia has experienced a sea change on capital punishment in recent years that is part of a national trend.

The state has had fewer death sentences over the past five years than any period since the 1970s. Robert Gleason, who was put to death Jan. 16, was the first execution in a year and a half. As recently as 1999, the state put 13 to death in a single year.

Nationwide, the number of death sentences was at record lows in 2011 and 2012, down 75 percent since 1996, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Five states have outlawed capital punishment in the past five years, and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) affirmed plans to push for a moratorium there. Gallup polls show support for capital punishment ebbing.

Givens’s improbable journey to the death chamber and back did not come easily or quickly for the 60-year-old from Richmond. A searing murder spurred his interest in the work, but it was the innocent life he nearly took that led him to question the system. And he was changed for good when he found himself behind bars.

His story helps explain how a state closely associated with the death penalty for decades has entered a new era.

“From the 62 lives I took, I learned a lot,” Givens said.

The first execution

Friends and strangers regularly ask Givens the essential question: What is it like to take another man’s life? In answering, he vividly recalls his first execution, in 1984.

A history of capital punishment in Texas


Milestones in capital punishment in Texas:

1819 — George Brown is first person executed in Texas, by hanging.

1863 — Chipita Rodriguez is first woman executed in Texas, by hanging.

1923 — Lee Nathan becomes the last of 394 people executed by hanging.

1924 — Charles Reynolds becomes first inmate to die in the electric chair in Huntsville as state takes over executions.

1963 — Joseph Johnson is the last of 361 Texas prisoners to die in the electric chair.

1972 — U.S. Supreme Court finds death penalty “cruel and unusual;” death sentences of 52 people in Texas are commuted to life in prison.

1976 — U.S. Supreme Court holds Georgia death penalty statute constitutional, setting stage for resumption of executions.

1977 — Texas adopts lethal injection method.

1982 — Texas inmate Charlie Brooks becomes first in U.S. to receive lethal injection.

1998 — Karla Tucker becomes first woman executed in Texas since Civil War.

2000 — Texas executes a record 40 prisoners in one year.

2013 — Texas schedules execution of Kimberly McCarthy, number 500 by lethal injection.

__

Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, “Espy File” database compiled by historians M. Watt Espy and John Ortiz Smykla.

Execution Watch: RACISM STALKS HALLS OF DEATH HOUSE AS TX PREPARES TO TAKE WOMAN’S LIFE


HUNTSVILLE, Texas – Kimberly McCarthy says jury selection in her trial was tainted by racism.

The courts have told her, in essence, “Drop dead.”

They say they won’t consider the merits of McCarthy’s appeal because her lawyers should have raised the issue sooner.

Despite the unheard claims, McCarthy remains on track to become the 500th person, and only the fourth woman, executed in Texas during the modern death-penalty era.

Execution Watch will provide live coverage and commentary of McCarthy’s execution, as well as the protests expected to take place outside the death house.

Unless a stay is issued, EXECUTION WATCH will broadcast live:
Wednesday, 26 June 2013, 6-7 PM Central Time
KPFT FM Houston 90.1 and Online…
http://executionwatch.org/ > Listen

TEXAS PLANS TO EXECUTE:
KIMBERLY McCARTHY, who has the gruesome distinction of holding ticket No. 500 in the Texas death-penalty lottery. The ex-crack addict was condemned in a 1997 robbery-slaying near Dallas. McCarthy is the former wife of New Black Panther Party founder Aaron Michaels, with whom she has a son. She is one of 10 women on Texas death row.

SHOW LINEUP
Host: RAY HILL, an ex-convict and activist who founded — and hosted for 30 years — The Prison Show on KPFT. His internet radio show airs Wednesdays at 2 PM CT.: hmsnetradio.org.

Legal Analyst: JIM SKELTON, a legal educator, retired attorney and native Texan who has seen capital trials from both the prosecution and defense tables. Joining him will be Houston criminal defense attorneys SUSAN ASHLEY, LARRY DOUGLAS, MICHAEL GILLESPIE & JACK LEE.

Reporters Outside the Death House will include GLORIA RUBAC, member, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, abolitionmovement.org, and DR. DENNIS LONGMIRE, professor of criminal justice, Sam Houston State University, shsu.edu.

Reporter, Vigil, Houston: DAVE ATWOOD, founder and former board member, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, tcadp.org.

Why do we keep executing people? By Thomas Cahill, Special to CNN


June 25, 2013

Editor’s note: Thomas Cahill is the author of the Hinges of History series, which begins with “How the Irish Saved Civilization.” Volume VI in the series, “Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World,” will be published at the end of October. He has also written “A Saint on Death Row” about his friend Dominique Green, who was executed by the state of Texas.

 

(CNN) — Killing people by lethal injection will soon be as distant a memory as burning heretics at the stake and stoning adulterers — at least throughout the civilized world. No country that employs the death penalty can be admitted to the European Union, and the practice dwindles daily.

 

But despite the growing worldwide revulsion against this lethal form of punishment, Texas and a handful of other states continue to take their places among such paragons as North Korea, China, Yemen and Iran in the club of those who attempt to administer the death penalty as a form of “justice.”

 

Thomas Cahill

Thomas Cahill

 

Indeed, Texas is way ahead of all other states in the administering of such justice. At the end of this month, under the leadership of Gov. Rick Perry, the state is expected — if all appeals fail — to celebrate its 500th judicial killing since our Supreme Court in 1976 reinstated the death penalty as a legitimate form of “justice,” despite the fact that an earlier court had determined that the death penalty was “cruel and unusual punishment.”

 

Death row diary offers a rare glimpse into a morbid world

 

No one doubts that the woman who is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday, Kimberly McCarthy, is guilty of the 1997 murder of her neighbor, a 71-year-old woman and a retired college professor. Although we know that upwards of 10% of all death row prisoners are later exonerated for the crimes for which they have been convicted, Kimberly McCarthy will not be one of them. So, why shouldn’t we kill her?

 

For the same reason Warden R.F. Coleman gave to reporters on February 8, 1924, the day the official Texas Death House was inaugurated with the electrocution of five African-American men. Said Coleman then, “It just couldn’t be done, boys. A warden can’t be a warden and a killer, too. The penitentiary is a place to reform a man, not to kill him.”

 

Warden Coleman resigned rather than pull the switch. Sadly, so many others have failed in the many years since then to follow his heroic example.

And let’s not equivocate: Often, and in every age, doing the right thing requires heroism.

 

Kimberly McCarthy is a black woman. Black people are disproportionately represented on death row, as are blacks imprisoned throughout this country. Many would say (at least in a whisper) that black people are more prone to crime and violence than are white people.

 

But as a historian, I know that there was a time, long ago, when my people — Irish-Americans — were deemed to be more prone to crime and violence than were others. This was in the years after the potato famines of the 19th century that brought so many desperately poor Irish people to these shores.

 

The police in New York City became so inured to arresting Irishmen that they began to call the van they threw the arrestees into “the Paddy Wagon,” a name that has adhered to that vehicle ever since.

 

But who today would care (or dare) to make a case for exceptional Irish criminality? The immigrating Irish were more prone to criminality not because of some genetic inheritance, but because they were so very poor, so neglected, so abandoned. When I see a vagrant today, snoring on a park bench, clothed in rags and stinking, I think to myself: Whatever happened to this guy, whatever the history that dropped him on this park bench, no one loved him enough when he was a child.

 

His parents, if he had parents, were too taken up with the pain of living, with the struggle for survival, with their own hideous fears, to tend to him adequately, if at all. No one came to rescue this child, give him enough to eat, adequate shelter, a caring environment — the love that everyone needs in order to grow.

 

We — the larger society — have a profound obligation to such people, an obligation we have largely ignored. Many other societies in the Western world devote considerable resources to keeping poor children (and their parents) from despair. As an American friend of mine who lives in Denmark says: “In Denmark we tax the rich, but everyone is comfortable.”

 

Not everyone is comfortable in the United States. Many children live below the poverty line, millions of them without enough food or adequate shelter and with almost no attention to their educational needs. As for their emotional needs, are you kidding me?

 

If Texas would pay attention to the needs of all its children, if we would all do the same for all our children, if we would only admit that every child needs to be loved and that we are all obliged to help ensure this outcome, our world would change overnight. We would certainly not need our electric chairs and nooses and lethal injections. We could then say what the poet-priest John Donne said as long ago as 1623, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.”

 

Any man’s death. Any woman’s death. Any child’s despair.

 

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Texas town where detention and death is a way of life


Texas town where detention and death is a way of life

With 7 prisons, a cemetery for dead inmates and its infamous execution chamber, the business of detention and death is a way of life in the Texas town of Huntsville.

In this neat and tidy city north of Houston, prisoners recognizable by their white uniforms, maintain public green spaces under a blazing sun and the gaze of a guard, sitting on the edge of a car.

“These are trustees,” says the corrections officer. The inmates in question are low-level criminals convicted of crimes such as car theft or burglary.

Out of Huntsville’s population of 38,000 people, 14,000 are prisoners while a further 6,000 are guards or employees of the Texas Justice Department.

Instead of tourist signs pointing out antique shops, the tomb of famous Texas Governor Sam Houston, or other places of interest, a visitor is guided to the various prisons: the Wynne Unit, the Byrne Unit, Hollyday Unit.

“Prison, it’s an industry here,” says Kathreen Case, executive director of the Texas defender service. “It is their industry, it is amazing how many people can earn their lives out of it.”

Prisons generate 16.6 million dollars in wages per month, while nearly 200 educators from the Windham School District contribute another 740,000 dollars each month to the local economy, according to the local Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s a prison town, everybody knows somebody that works in the prison system,” says Gloria Rubac, an activist who campaigns for the abolition of the death penalty in Texas. “It’s a very prison-oriented town.”

Prisoners are put to work in a number of schemes, doing everything from manufacturing their own clothes or the uniforms of prison guards to feeding and raising chickens.

“If we didn’t have the prison system and if we didn’t have the university, I don’t know if you’d even have a traffic light in this town,” said Jim Willett, former warden and commissioner at the Walls Unit, the oldest of 7 prisons.

An imposing building guarded by high red brick walls, the Walls Unit is set just a short distance from downtown Huntsville.

In the northeast corner of the building, topped by a watchtower, is the execution chamber, reveals Willett, who gave the green light to 89 executions in his 30-year career.

The clock on the facade of the building is the usual gathering point for anti-death penalty activists ahead of each execution.

They will gather again here Wednesday for the 500th execution scheduled since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the United States in 1976.

Previously, those sentenced to die were also imprisoned at the facility, but due to over-crowding amid soaring convictions, they were transferred to the Ellis Unit and later to the maximum security Polunsky Unit.

A few hours before execution, the prisoner is taken from death row, a concrete fortress topped by razor wire where narrow slits are the only openings to the outside world, and transferred to the Huntsville execution chamber.

The condemned prisoner’s final journey is a scenic route along the shores of Lake Livingston, surrounded by cedar forests. The precise route of a prisoner’s final journey is never revealed for security reasons.

Since his retirement, Willett has taken over responsibility as curator for the Huntsville prison museum, one of the most popular stops on the tourist trail, where exhibits include the final words of those executed.

Pride of place is given to “Old Sparky” the nickname for the electric chair, which was responsible for sending 361 prisoners to their deaths before its use was discontinued in 1965.

Large syringes and straps on display reflect Texas’s transition to the use of lethal injection as the preferred method of execution.

A gift shop sells mugs and T-shirts with death row symbols as well as novelty items notable for their black humor, including “Solitary Confine-mints.”

A couple of blocks away is Hospitality House, a charitable organization run by 2 baptist pastors which aims to offer support to the families and loved ones of those who are condemned to death.

“The families shouldn’t be punished,” says Debra McCammon, the executive director of Hospitality House, describing them as “the other victims of crime.”

It is also here that the prison chaplain prepares families in order to avoid “hysteria or panic” during executions.

A guided tour of the city’s jails ends with the cemetery of prisoners, situated on a green hill shaded by sycamore trees.

Some 3,000 concrete crosses have been erected at the site since the 1st burials in the 19th century. Many graves are anonymous, while some are identified only by their prisoner number.

Others carry a single 1-word epitaph: “Executed.”

(source: Global Post)

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Kitzhaber fails to rally Oregonians, Legislature to overturn death penalty- Larry Haugen


The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled. Gary Haugen will not yet die at the state’s hand.

The court’s ruling seems reasonable. Gov. John Kitzhaber has the authority to grant a reprieve of Haugen’s execution even though Haugen doesn’t want it; and the uncertainty of sitting on death row does not constitute unconstitutional punishment, as Haugen contended.

“Moreover, Haugen cites no case that suggests that a reprieve or other act of clemency qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment,” states the unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Thomas Balmer.

Yet the greater issue remains unresolved: Should Oregon retain the death penalty?

In 2011, Kitzhaber took a courageous stand. He declared that no one would be executed on his watch, including double murderer Haugen, whose date with death was only weeks away.

Kitzhaber, who during his previous gubernatorial tenure had overseen the state’s two most recent executions, called for a statewide debate on capital punishment.

“Fourteen years ago, I struggled with the decision to allow an execution to proceed,” he said at the time. “Over the years, I have thought if faced with the same set of circumstances, I would make a different decision. That time has come.”

He challenged the 2013 Legislature to reform the death penalty or to end it.

And then he fell silent.

The years 2011 and 2012 passed without any such statewide debate. And now the 2013 Legislature will exit the Oregon Capitol with the state’s capital punishment laws unaltered.

Certainly, the governor had numerous other issues on his agenda, and his aides have said there was little political will among legislators to confront capital punishment. But if the death penalty were as inequitable and repugnant as the governor contended — if sparing the life of a despicable person such as Haugen were preferable to achieving final justice — then Kitzhaber had the moral obligation to carry that case to the Oregon people.

Because on the issue of capital punishment, Kitzhaber is right.

The death penalty is a barbaric act, lowering the state to the level of those who kill in retribution. It is applied unequally, with appeals taking so long that Oregon death-row inmates will not be executed unless they volunteer.

And the alternative, life imprisonment, is such a severe punishment that even an inmate such as Haugen would prefer execution.

Yet capital punishment, or the illusion of it, persists in Oregon.

2012