The five people accused and sentenced as teenagers for the 1989 rape and beating of a jogger in Central Park had their convictions dismissed by a judge in late December. The dismissal came after a convicted rapist confessed to the crime last January, and DNA tests several months later proved "beyond question" that individual’s guilt.
Baltimore/Washington, D.C. By Dexter Sumner and John Coursey
We’ve had our hands full fighting the death penalty in recent months. Public debate on the death penalty intensified in response to the sniper shootings. And the debate has become even more heated following the inauguration of Maryland’s new governor, Robert Ehrlich, who plans to restart the machinery of death here.
The second annual national convention of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty drew more than 130 people to Chicago on November 9 and 10.
Organized around the theme "Abolish the racist death penalty," the weekend was full of both exciting and serious discussions of where the abolitionist movement in the U.S. is headed. Those who attended left with a renewed sense of inspiration and commitment to fighting a racist and unjust practice.
On January 10, three men--Madison Hobley, Leroy Orange and Aaron Patterson--walked off of death row in Illinois after Governor George Ryan pardoned them.
But Madison, Leroy and Aaron share other things in common. All three--as well as Stanley Howard, the fourth man pardoned by Ryan, who remains behind bars on a separate conviction--are members of the Death Row 10, the group of African American men whose confessions, tortured out of them by Chicago police, are the main reason that they landed on death row.
The abolition train is moving full speed ahead. But the engine needs to be pumped with funds if we are to succeed in our mission to end the death penalty in the U.S.
At our convention in November, the Campaign launched a national fund drive with a goal of raising $25,000 by June.
We realize that not everyone can dedicate their time to the fight for abolition. However, those without the time can still play a significant part in abolishing the racist, ineffective and barbaric death penalty system--become a supporter of the Campaign’s fund drive.
The emptying of death row in Illinois is a huge victory for the abolitionist movement. It certainly is the biggest victory against the death penalty since the Supreme Court banned all executions in 1972.
So how did this come about, and what does it say about where we are in our fight to end capital punishment in this country?
The road to abolition got that much shorter in January when Illinois Gov. George Ryan, in his final days in office, announced that he was pardoning four death row prisoners--all of them members of the Death Row 10--and issuing a blanket commutation for every other prisoner facing execution. A total of 164 prisoners were given sentences of life without parole, and three others had their sentences shortened to 40 years.
Maryland’s new governor, Robert Ehrlich, hoped his swearing-in ceremony on January 15 would be one of celebration and without controversy, as the first Republican to hold the state’s highest office in more than three decades.
Instead, Ehrlich had to contend with the loud chants of more than 75 anti-death penalty activists, angry that Ehrlich planned to restart Maryland’s racist death machine. Chants of "Hey Ehrlich, just face it, death row is racist!" and others could be heard throughout the inauguration ceremony.
A study of Maryland’s capital punishment system has confirmed its many critics’ worst fears: that Maryland’s death penalty is applied in a racist and geographically arbitrary way.
Yet despite these dramatic findings, Gov. Robert Ehrlich has restarted the machinery of death, clearing the way for Steven Oken to be put to death in March, and setting the stage for as many as six more executions this year--the most executions in a single year in Maryland’s history.
More than 300 supporters and activists who want freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal gathered here for two days of discussion about a wide range of criminal injustice issues. The outcome was a call for groups and individuals to file "joinders," or documents that support a "friend of the court" brief (www.mumia.org/freedom.now/article.php?sid=380) written by independent attorney Michael Yamamoto.
Campaign members presented a workshop on the case of California death row inmates Kevin Cooper and Stan "Tookie" Williams, the Nobel Peace Prize nominee.
When former Gov. George Ryan announced his decision to commute all death sentences in Illinois and pardon four Illinois death row prisoners, he effectively shut down Illinois’ death row. But more than that, his decision re-ignited the debate over the future of the death penalty in Illinois and across the nation.
Without question, Ryan’s decision is a tremendous victory for the abolitionist movement. Within days of his announcement, Illinois House Rep. Art Turner, backed by some of the state’s top legislators, reintroduced abolition legislation.
Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Bush administration managed to send the trials of the Washington, D.C.-area sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo to Virginia--an act that will allow the death penalty in both cases.
A majority of the sniper’s victims were killed in Maryland, but under that state’s current statutes, Malvo, who was 17 at the time of the crimes, would be ineligible for capital punishment. Plus Maryland until recently had a moratorium on all executions that might have affected the outcome of the trials.
"Freedom is never given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." --Martin Luther King Jr.
A firm clenched-fist salute to you and warm salutations for a successful struggle for liberation and real justice for all, from the grassroots up, in the new year. Let’s give another clenched-fist to George Ryan! He did the right thing, but not without first receiving a lot of organized and solid urging from the people in constant struggle.
By: pardoned Illinois death row prisoner Stanley Howard
My last article (New Abolitionist, November 2002) focused on what Illinois Gov. George Ryan should do with the 140 filed clemency petitions before leaving office "to make sure that no innocent man or woman is facing a lethal injection." I concluded that he should Keep It Real and help to bring this madness to an end by not only commuting all of Illinois’ death sentences, but also by issuing pardons to the innocent.
Prosecutors are eager to use Steven Oken’s case to rebuild support of Maryland’s embattled death penalty.
Oken is a middle-class white man accused of killing a white victim in a string a brutal murders in 1991. On a death row dominated by poor Blacks, Oken is an exception. But even this "exception" shows the death penalty is unjust.