THE dramatic story of Lawrence Hayes' 47 years reads like one of Franz Kafka's absurdist novels. But unlike a novel, a man's tortured life is not entertainment. It is tragedy at the American justice system's worst.
Lawrence Hayes, a former Black Panther and outspoken opponent of the death penalty, was sentenced in September to five years in prison by the New York State Board of Parole. His crime? Lawrence visited his parole officer on the wrong days!
Two months ago, the Death Row Ten - a group of prisoners who were sent to death row after being tortured by former Police Commander Jon Burge - asked the Campaign to be their voice on the outside. They took the courageous step of speaking out in the face of possible retribution by prison officials to let the truth be heard. What is outrageous is that while Burge was fired for extracting confessions with electric shock, suffocation and beatings, his victims remain on death row.
On October 13, Jeremy Sagastegui was the first person executed by lethal injection in Washington.
By protesting this execution, I learned two important things:
First, Washington approves of killing the mentally ill as long as they are "competent," and second, we must be involved at all stages of every capital case if we want to put an end to the death penalty. The system is not only warped, it's quick.
Stephen Bright is the Director of the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) in Atlanta, Georgia. He is one of the foremost capital defense and appellate attorneys in the country, and one of the most outspoken and tireless opponents of the death penalty. I had the good fortune to be able to work at SCHR for a short time this past spring to help with some death penalty cases, and I asked Stephen to tell New Abolitionist readers a little about his thoughts and experiences.
One hundred-sixty-five people turned out to a stirring "Live from Death Row" event at Hunter College on September 30.
Tyrone Gilliam and Kenny Collins addressed a live audience via speaker phone from Maryland's death row. Both talked about the racism implicit in the death penalty and the impending execution date set for Tyrone. The audience gave a standing ovation for these two inmates as well as for the remaining panelists.
I greet you in the name of Peace, as Salaam Alaikum. My name is Andre V. Jones, Sr. I have been on death row for 19 years. I am writing in response to the article I read in your newsletter about a brother who is a dear friend of mine, Nathson Fields.
My name is Donetta Hill. I am a 31-year-old black woman and the mother of two daughters, ages 8 and 11. I am from Philadelphia, but for the past six and a half years I have been living at Muncy State Prison for Women, on death row. I am writing to you to ask you for your support and to ask for help from anyone who is willing to assist me in any way you can.
Greetings. I'm allowing my spirit to lead me in writing this letter. I want to address the Death Penalty from an angle many are running from. I can't make the argument of innocence, so I will not play that game with anyone.
I will state for the record that drugs played a big part in the decision I made 15 years ago. Anyone who has knowledge of drug abuse knows that while you're under the influence of drugs, you may think you know what you're doing and are in control even though you're not. If you stop and look at the decisions I made in 1983, it's clear that something was wrong with me.
On October 30, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused to grant a new trial for celebrated death-row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The Supreme Court decision is a signal that the mountain of evidence collected to show Mumia's innocence and of prosecutorial, police, and judicial misconduct in his original 1982 trial (see reverse) means nothing to the authorities.
The politicians and police are out to make an example of Mumia. We can't let that happen.
As has been the case at every stage of Mumia's attempts to appeal his frameup, the Supreme Court decision was biased against him.
"Don't tell me about the valley of the shadow of death. I live there."
So begins the book Live from Death Row, by acclaimed writer and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on death row for over 15 years for the killing of a Philadelphia police officer. An award-winning journalist, political activist and one-time member of the Black Panther Party, Mumia has faced one miscarriage of justice after another.