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Monday, October 31, 2005

Dangerous bill on the horizon

The New York Times has an good editorial today on some dangerous provisions that House Republicans are trying to pass without debate - provisions that would greatly expand the scope of the death penalty and weaken the few checks against it in the judicial system. The entire editorial is quoted here:
In the national anguish after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress rushed to enact a formidable antiterrorism law - the Patriot Act - that significantly crimped civil liberties by expanding law enforcement's power to use wiretaps, search warrants and other surveillance techniques, often under the cloak of secrecy. There was virtually no public debate before these major changes to the nation's legal system were put into effect.

Now, with some of the act's most sweeping powers set to expire at the end of the year, the two houses of Congress face crucial negotiations, which will also take place out of public view, on their differences over how to extend and amend the law. That's controversy enough. But the increasingly out-of-control House of Representatives has made the threat to our system of justice even greater by inserting a raft of provisions to enlarge the scope of the federal death penalty.

In a breathtaking afterthought at the close of debate, the House voted to triple the number of terrorism-related crimes carrying the death penalty. The House also voted to allow judges to reduce the size of juries that decide on executions, and even to permit prosecutors to try repeatedly for a death sentence when a hung jury fails to vote for death.

The radical amendment was slapped through by the Republican leadership without serious debate. The Justice Department has endorsed the House measure, and Representative James Sensenbrenner Jr., the Judiciary Committee chairman, who is ever on the side of more government power over the individual, is promising to fight hard for the death penalty provisions.

There are now 20 terrorism-related crimes eligible for capital punishment, and the House measure would add 41 more. These would make it easier for prosecutors to win a death sentence in cases where a defendant had no intent to kill - for example, if a defendant gave financial support to an umbrella organization without realizing that some of its adherents might eventually commit violence.

Any move to weaken the American jury system in the name of fighting terrorism is particularly egregious. But the House voted to allow a federal trial to have fewer than 12 jurors if the judge finds "good cause" to do so, even if the defense objects. Under current law, a life sentence is automatically ordered when juries become hung on deciding the capital punishment question. But the House would have a prosecutor try again - a license for jury-shopping for death - even though federal juries already exclude opponents of capital punishment.

The House's simplistic vote for another "crackdown" gesture can only further sully the notion of patriotism in a renewed Patriot Act.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Anti-death penalty events all week and beyond

Voices From Death Row, a national speaking tour, tonight (10/26) at 7pm...

Part of a national tour kicked off in Illinois on October 5, this event will feature the stories of men and women who have survived the horrors of death row. Former death row prisoners, family members and activists reveal the truth about the death penalty and the injustices of our criminal justice system. Their stories give voices to the voiceless and put a human face on
the death penalty

Shujaa Graham ­ an exonerated California death row inmate
Sandra Reed ­ mother of Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed
Mary Felps ­ mother of executed Texas death row inmate David Martinez
Marlene Martin ­ National Director of the Campaign to End the Death
And Jeannine Scott ­ wife of Texas prisoner Michael Scott

7PM in the Eastwoods Room of the Texas Union at UT.
(on Guadalupe below 24th street, on the ground floor behind the info desk)

The tour is sponsored by several national and local organizations. Local sponsors include: American Friends Services Committee-Austin, Journey of Hope ­ From Violence to Healing, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Texas Moratorium Network...

6th Annual March to Stop Executions in Austin on Saturday October 29th, this Saturday.

The March will call attention to the barbarism of the death penalty and will demand and end to executions in Texas and everywhere. This year it will be held in conjunction with the national convention of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, held in Austin that weekend. The Journey of Hope banner will lead the march and several local Texas groups are
participating in this annual event.

Speakers include:
Juan Melendez ­ exonerated death row inmate
Bud Welch ­ murder victim family member
Sandra Reed ­ family member of death row inmate Rodney Reed

Gather at 3PM at the City Hall Plaza on 1st and Lavaca
March at 4
Rally at 4:30 at the Governor¹s Mansion (in the parking lot across the
street at 10th and Lavaca)
Surround and wrap the mansion with crime scene tape at 5:30

Sponsored by: Campaign to End the Death Penalty, Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Democrats for Life, International Socialist Organization, Journey of Hope ­ From Violence to Healing, National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Texas Moratorium Network...

Redemption: The Story of Stan Tookie Williams, with Jamie Foxx
will be screened on TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2005 beginning at 7:30 PM in CMA 5.136 (26th and Dean Keeton on the UT campus)

Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Stan “Tookie” Williams has been scheduled for execution on December 13, 2005 in California.

Come hear the facts about his unfair trial, watch his story, and find out what you can do to help in his fight for justice. A flyer can be downloaded here (.doc).

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

What's in the brown paper bag?

From Abolish the Death Penalty:
By Luis Ramirez #999309

I'm about the share with you a story who's telling is long past due. It's a familiar story to most of you reading this from death row. And now it's one that all of you in "free world " may benefit from. This is the story of my first day on the row.

I came here in May of 1999. The exact date is something that I can't recall. I do remember arriving in the afternoon. I was placed in a cell on H-20 wing over at the Ellis Unit in Huntsville, TX. A tsunami of emotions and thoughts were going through my mind at the time. I remember the only things in the cell were a mattress, pillow, a couple of sheets, a pillow case, a roll of toilet paper, and a blanket. I remember sitting there, utterly lost.

The first person I met there was Napolean Beasley. Back then, death row prisoners still worked. His job at the time was to clean up the wing and help serve during meal times. He was walking around sweeping the pod in these ridiculous looking rubber boots. He came up to the bars on my cell and asked me if I was new. I told him that I had just arrived on death row. He asked what my name is. I told him, not seeing any harm in it. He then stepped back where he could see all three tiers. He hollered at everyone, "There's a new man here. He just drove up. His name is Luis Ramirez." When he did that, I didn't know what to make of it at first. I thought I had made some kind of mistake. You see, like most of you, I was of the impression that everyone on death row was evil. I thought I would find hundreds of "Hannibal Lecters" in here. And now, they all knew my name. I thought "Oh well," that's strike one. I was sure that they would soon begin harassing me. This is what happens in the movies after all.

Well, that's not what happened . After supper was served, Napolean was once again sweeping the floors. As he passed my cell, He swept a brown paper bag into it. I asked him "What's this?" He said for me to look inside and continued on his way. Man, I didn't know what to expect. I was certain it was something bad. Curiosity did get the best of me though. I carefully opened the bag. What I found was the last thing I ever expected to find on death row, and everything I needed. The bag contained some stamps, envelopes, notepad, pen, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, tooth brush, a pastry, a soda, and a couple of Ramen noodles. I remember asking Napolean where this came from.

He told me that everyone had pitched in. That they knew that I didn't have anything and that it may be a while before I could get them. I asked him to find out who had contributed. I wanted to pay them back. He said, "It's not like that. Just remember the next time you see someone come here like you. You pitch in something."

I sat there on my bunk with my brown paper bag of goodies, and thought about what had just happened to me. The last things I expected to find on death row was kindness and generosity. They knew what I needed and they took it upon themselves to meet those needs. They did this without any expectation of reimbursement or compensation. They did this for a stranger, not a known friend. I don't know what they felt when they committed this act of incredible kindness. I only know that like them, twelve "good people" had deemed me beyond redemption. The only remedy that these "good people" could offer us is death. Somehow what these "good people" saw and what I was seeing didn't add up. How could these men, who just showed me so much humanity, be considered the "worst of the worst."

Ever since Napolean was executed, for a crime he committed as a teen, I've wanted to share this story with his family. I would like for them to know that their son was a good man. One who I will never forget. I want for them to know how sorry I am that we as a society failed them and him. I still find it ridiculous that we as a people feel that we cannot teach or love our young properly. I'm appalled at the idea that a teen is beyond redemption, that the only solution that we can offer is death. It's tragic that this is being pointed out to the "good people" by one of the "worst of the worst". God help us all.

What's in the brown paper bag? I found caring, kindness, love, humanity, and compassion of a scale that I've never seen the "good people" in the free world show towards one another.

Luis Ramirez can be contacted at:

Luis Ramirez #999309
Polunsky Unit-Death Row
3872 FM 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351

Mr. Ramirez is scheduled to be executed tomorrow. Click here to urge Texas Gov. Rick Perry to stop the execution of Luis Ramirez.