Maryland: Will Death Penalty Repeal Follow Marriage Equality?

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley speaks ©AFP/Getty Images

Yesterday, marriage equality became the law in Maryland with Governor Martin O’Malley’s signature.  Death penalty repeal is another issue the Governor says he feels strongly about, and he should push for the chance to sign that into law too.

In 2009, Maryland legislators tried to create the perfect death penalty law, one that would not risk executing the innocent.  Of course, human beings are still running Maryland’s capital punishment system. Mistakes will be made, and that awful risk remains. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Connecticut Victim Families Fight for Death Penalty Abolition

against the death penalty

(c) Scott Langley

A bill to repeal Connecticut’s death penalty was introduced on Wednesday.  It has an excellent chance of passing, largely because an increasing number of murder victim family members have been calling for an end to capital punishment in their state.  There’s a blog on which many of them discuss their reasons, and this piece in the New London Day and this piece in the West Hartford News both do a good job of outlining why so many murder victim family members have had it with Connecticut’s death penalty and believe they will be better off without it.

There are many reasons victim family members may oppose the death penalty.  There is the endless process that turns the killer into a celebrity while forcing the family to constantly relive the worst moment of their lives.  There is the waste of resources that could be spent on counseling and other real support for survivors of homicide.  And there is the false promise of an execution which will most likely never happen (especially in Connecticut where there has been only one execution in the last 50 years) and may not provide the expected “closure” even if it does.


2011: Five Good Signs For Death Penalty Abolition in the US

stop the execution death penalty protesters

© Scott Langley

Given the dramatic events of the “Arab Spring” and “Occupy Wall Street”, Time Magazine has dubbed “The Protester” as its Person of the Year for 2011. Seems fitting enough, but someday we may also look back on this past year as a turning point in the history of death penalty abolition in the U.S.

On September 21, the crowds amassed around the world to protest the killing of Troy Davis were the most visible sign that opponents of capital punishment were turning up the volume.  But that wasn’t the only sign. Throughout the year more and more voices from across the U.S. spoke out against the death penalty.


New Bill Would Abolish California's Death Penalty

According to a recent study, if California were to rid itself of the death penalty and everyone on death row received the next highest penalty on the books (life without parole) it would save tax payers $184 million per year.

Execution witness viewing room (c) Scott Langley

No state, certainly not California, can afford to waste public money like this. This is a state that has cut valuable social services and funds for education in the face of serious budget shortfalls.

The death penalty is a public policy failure that does not represent the best of our values as a society that says it is committed to human rights. It is a distraction from real solutions that could prevent violent crime and bring valuable services to murder victims’ families.

What could the state do with $184 million per year to improve the lives of Californians?


First Steps Toward Abolition in Connecticut

By Helen Jack, Yale University Amnesty International Chapter Coordinator


Following the lead of Illinois, Connecticut took a step toward death penalty abolition. On Monday, the Connecticut Judiciary Committee, a joint committee of the House and Senate, held a public hearing on bills that would end execution in the state.

Along with a group of student activists, I traveled to Hartford to attend the public hearing. In the hearing room, we put on red stickers that read, “End the Death Penalty” and joined murder victims’ family members, exonerees, religious leaders, and other members of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty who were there to support abolition.

Eighty-two victims’ family members have signed a letter supporting abolition in Connecticut, and many of those family members offered powerful testimonies before the Judiciary Committee.  This follows on the heels of last month’s powerful press conference where 76 of the victims’ family members first announced their strong endorsement of abolition (see video above).


Will Ohio Carry Out an Execution Nobody Wants?

Johnnie Baston was sentenced to death in Ohio for the murder of Chong Hoon Mah, a South Korean immigrant.  Baston’s execution date is March 10.  At his clemency hearing last month, one of the prosecutors from the original trial emphasized that Chong Mah’s family does not want Baston executed. In fact, the family never supported the death penalty, even at the time of the trial.

Yet the Ohio Parole Board voted unanimously to reject clemency.  

The March 10 execution, if it is carried out, will be the first in which Ohio uses pentobarbital, an anesthetic selected to replace sodium thiopental, which is no longer made by an FDA-accredited company.  But the manufacturer of the pentobarbital Ohio plans to use has objected strenuously to its product being employed in any execution.  Lundbeck, based in Denmark, wrote Ohio officials saying:

“Lundbeck is dedicated to saving people’s lives. Use of our products to end lives contradicts everything we’re in business to do.”

So far, Ohio officials have been unmoved by this appeal to medical ethics.

Ohio’s death penalty has acquired a kind of blind bureaucratic momentum that makes it difficult to stop an execution even when nobody wants it.  Fortunately, the Governor of Ohio does have the power to overrule the Parole Board’s advisory opinion and grant clemency. 

He should, and we can encourage him to do so.

Jurors, Family Members Oppose Texas Execution

The family of Timothy Adams does not want the state of Texas to execute him on February 22.  That is not too surprising, but is a good reminder that those on death row have families who love them, and that the loss of a loved one through the instrument of state killing can be every bit as painful as the loss of a loved one to murder. 

Execution witness viewing room (c) Scott Langley

The family of Timothy Adams knows this because they are also the family of the victim.  Timothy Adams shot and killed his 19-month-old son, TJ Adams, during a standoff with Houston police 9 years ago.  As heinous the killing of little TJ was, the loss of another family member, this time to execution, will only amplify the pain caused by this crime.

Timothy Adams’ father (and TJ’s grandfather):

“Losing TJ was especially hard for me… However, I cannot imagine losing my son to this tragedy as well… I do not know what I will do if we lose Tim.”

Timothy Adams’ brother (TJ’s uncle):

“It’s hard to explain why Tim did what he did… It was totally out of character… I still have a strong relationship with him. I often break down when I leave the prison after our visits. I cannot imagine losing my brother.”

Timothy Adams’ sister (TJ’s aunt):

“It’s going to affect my family in a bad way if he is executed. I would never wish this on anyone, even my worst enemy… This would just be another huge loss to our family.”

Three jurors from the original trial are also seeking to stop this execution, saying that they felt pressured by other jurors into voting for a death sentence they didn’t believe in.  

One juror said she changed her vote from life to death under pressure, and “carried the guilt around for years knowing that I sentenced Adams, a man who had done wrong but who was otherwise a good, religious, and hard-working person, to death”; while another said: “Adams was so remorseful during the trial, and I could tell that he was hurting a lot.”

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles can recommend that Texas Governor Rick Perry grant clemency in this case, and commute Timothy Adams’ death sentence to life without parole. Please join these jurors and family members in calling for clemency in this case.

I Would Like the Firing Squad, Please

Ronald Lee Gardner faces execution on June 18 in Utah.  The media has zeroed in on the fact that he has chosen the firing squad as his method of execution – which seems kind of hard core and old school given the lengths states have gone through to try to make executions appear “humane”.   Gardner’s exact words to judge were: “I would like the firing squad, please.”

Utah’s firing squad carried out the first execution of the so-called “modern” era of US capital punishment, when Gary Gilmore was shot in January 1977, six months after the US Supreme Court allowed executions to restart under new death penalty statutes.   Another prisoner, John Albert Taylor, was put to death by a Utah firing squad in 1996. 

MVFMarchBut more important than Ronald Lee Gardner’s peculiar choice is the fact that the family and friends of his victim are opposed to his execution.  Gardner killed Michael Burdell, a defense attorney, during a 1985 courtroom escape attempt, but Burdell’s father, his girlfriend, and another friend all plan to testify on Gardner’s behalf if Utah’s Board of Pardons and Parole agrees to hold a clemency hearing.

State officials often claim that their support for the death penalty and executions is in part to honor the wishes and needs of victims’ families.  Will the state of Utah honor the wishes of this victim’s family and refrain from executing Ronald Lee Gardner?