‘Anyone Who Says We Live Comfortably on Death Row Has Obviously Never Been There’

Damon Thibodeaux

Damon Thibodeaux was released after 15 years on death row.

Damon Thibodeaux lived under the threat of execution for more than a decade.

Now 38, Damon was convicted of the murder of 14-year-old Chrystal Champagne, his step-cousin, and sentenced to death in 1997. But he always insisted on his innocence and after spending 15 years in prison, he finally walked out of Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola – one of the harshest prisons in the country – a free man. This is his story.

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“Never Accepting Defeat:” Amnesty’s Death Penalty Repeal Campaign in Maryland

New technologies and social media helped Andrea Hall and Kevin Scruggs spread their message and mobilize activists (Photo credit: Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images).

New technologies and social media helped Andrea Hall and Kevin Scruggs spread their message and mobilize activists (Photo credit: Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images).

By Andrea Hall and Kevin Scruggs – current Maryland State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinators (SDPACs)

This blog series tells the story of Amnesty International’s involvement in Maryland’s historic death penalty repeal campaign, featuring the memories and insights of volunteers and staff who played critical roles over more than three decades.

In 2010 and 2011, we were fortunate to land in Maryland’s established and well-organized death penalty repeal coalition, continuing the work that countless others began decades earlier.

When we took on the shared role of State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinators for Amnesty International, we knew that repeal was a realistic goal in the relative short term, and that we had skills and experience to give to this campaign.

It was immensely rewarding to see the system work. Each year, we would employ the same basic strategy: in the spring and summer, we would lay the groundwork for the legislative session. We attended fairs and concerts, knocked on doors, collected signatures, and phone-banked. We handed out flyers, spoke to student groups, wrote newsletters, and marched in rallies. We drove hundreds of miles to reach out to a diverse constituency.

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“I Had No Idea What I Was Getting Into:” Amnesty’s Death Penalty Repeal Campaign in Maryland

After decades of work towards abolition, activists were finally rewarded when the Maryland House of Delegates passed the death penalty repeal bill (Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images).

After decades of work towards abolition, activists were finally rewarded when the Maryland House of Delegates passed the death penalty repeal bill (Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images).

INTRODUCTION

Last week we had great news – Maryland’s General Assembly voted to repeal Maryland’s death penalty! The bill is now in the hands of Governor Martin O’Malley, who will certainly sign it as one of the most outspoken proponents of the bill.

Amnesty activists celebrated last week – but the victory came after years of hard work. Amnesty International has campaigned for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty since 1977, the same year that the USA restarted executions after 10 years without capital punishment. In 1978, Maryland passed a law reinstating the death penalty. Amnesty volunteers and staff, as part of an increasingly broad and dynamic coalition, have been working to repeal that law for most of its existence. This year, 35 years after its reinstatement, Maryland’s death penalty looks at last to be on its way out.

This week’s special blog series tells the story of Amnesty International’s involvement in this campaign, featuring the memories and insights of volunteers and staff who played critical roles over more than three decades.

Take action to thank Maryland’s leadership for their support of death penalty repeal and urge them to ensure that funding to support victims’ families in included, as originally promised, in this year’s state budget.

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