"It’s really a joy to be here" is how Madison Hobley opened up the Campaign to End the Death Penalty’s third annual national convention, held in Chicago on the weekend of November 8-9.
Madison was one of four people pardoned by former Illinois Gov. George Ryan and released from death row in January 2003. He is a member of the Death Row 10, a group of African American men who were tortured by former police commander Jon Burge. Shortly after his release, Madison went on a national speaking tour arranged by the Campaign to spread the message of abolition.
When former Illinois’ Gov. George Ryan made the historic step of pardoning four police torture victims from death row and commuting 167 other death sentences, he opened the door for a new and broader political campaign against wrongful convictions and Illinois’ racist criminal justice system.
In February 2003, the national media began making noise about John Ashcroft’s disturbing zeal to seek the death penalty in federal cases. Reports disclosed that in twenty-eight federal murder cases, the attorney general stepped in and pulled rank over prosecutors’ decisions not to seek the death penalty. Suddenly, defendants in federal cases across states like New York and Vermont (known for low execution rates) now faced death. In at least one case, prosecutors had already struck a plea bargain for a life sentence. Now this case, among the others, is in disarray.
This year, Death Penalty Awareness Week fell on October 13-17, and our annual March to Stop Executions was scheduled for October 18. So the two events went together, with the march being an exclamation point on the week of activity. During the week, we had information tables every day on the West Mall, the main area on the University of Texas campus where students congregate. We held a meeting and video screening one night of the week.
Excerpts from the Campaign's National Convention 2003
Darby Tillis: "We had a victory, but we want to win the war"
My name is Darby Tillis. I spent nine years, one month and 17 days in the penal system. I was tried five times, more than anyone in the judicial system throughout the United States. I’m part of Illinois’ exonerated--number one. I was released from death row, but I’m not free of death row. Death row is hell, and so is my life like hell. I have not been compensated. Death row lives within me today. It’s alive--the pain, the hurt. Every day is a day of bad memories.
Sandra Reed mother of Rodney Reed, who is on death row in Texas
I’d like to tell you the story about my son Rodney Reed, #999271, a number that he does not deserve. He sits on death row accused, convicted and waiting to be legally murdered for a crime that he did not do. He is accused of a rape and murder of a young lady by the name of Stacey Stikes in April 1996. Rodney was arrested one year later. It is a known fact that Rodney and Stacey were dating, even though she was engaged to a police officer.
After attending the recent annual convention of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, it became abundantly clear that various chapters have raised the level of discourse in their respective states. However, in a room full of over 100 abolitionists from around the country, no one was discussing the federal death row unit.
In this age of the Texecutioner and his right-hand assassin John Ashcroft in the national spotlight, continuously promoting their "Patriot" propaganda, we must not forget about the 23 men currently incarcerated at the federal level.
The world’s most famous political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, has been in prison for 21 years after being falsely convicted and condemned to death for the killing of Daniel Faulkner, a white Philadelphia policeman. Even after more than two decades of suffering the daily injustice of being imprisoned, Mumia Abu-Jamal and his supporters continue to fight for a new trial and are planning a demonstration for April 24, 2004, in Phildalephia, on Mumia’s 50th birthday.
Over 50,000 activists gathered in Paris on November 12-15 for the European Social Forum (ESF) to discuss the struggle for a better world--and the Campaign to End the Death Penalty was there. Former death row inmate and Campaign member Shujaa Graham and D.C. Campaign organizer Mike Stark were part of a contingent of activists from the U.S. organized by the Center for Economic Research and Social Change.
This page has been reserved in recent issues for profiles of the cases of The Death Row 10, a group of men who were beaten and tortured by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his detectives and sent to death row in Illinois.
In the summer of 1998, the Death Row 10 came together inside prison and asked the Campaign to End the Death Penalty to be their voice on the outside. In January 2003, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan pardoned four members of the Death Row 10. The Campaign is continuing the struggle to win justice for those who remain behind bars.
To all of you who donated to the Costella Cannon Fund, we want to say thank you. The Costella Cannon Fund was created this year to honor our dear friend, fellow Campaigner, and mother of Death Row 10 prisoner, who passed away this year.
Because of your generous donations, we raised more than $1,500 which was put toward the traveling expenses of family members of those on death row. We know that Costella would have been proud of this year’s convention, and especially of the increased participation of family members. Thank you for making that possible.
A Virginia jury has recommended that sniper suspect John Muhammad receives the death penalty after having found him guilty of capital murder. During Muhammad’s formal sentencing hearing, Circuit Judge LeRoy Millette Jr. could have overturned the jury’s decision and reduce the sentence to life in prison without parole, but like most Virginia judges he did not. Meanwhile, the death penalty trial against juvenile suspect Lee Malvo has just begun.