All eyes have been on Illinois where Gov. George Ryan said that he was considering blanket commutations of the state’s death sentences.
In mid-October, the Illinois Prisoner Review Board conducted hearings reviewing the cases of 142 death row prisoners who submitted petitions requesting clemency. For nearly two weeks, attorneys, death penalty experts and family members of prisoners and victims testified before members of the board to make their case for and against commutations.
Regular readers of the New Abolitionist will be familiar with the case of California death row prisoner Kevin Cooper. The Bay Area Campaign to End the Death Penalty began publicizing this case and petitioning for DNA testing that we had hoped would prove Kevin’s innocence. We won the testing, but now four pieces of evidence have come back linking Kevin to the crime.
We believe that this evidence was mishandled and very likely tampered with. This is a case where the DNA testing actually raises more questions than it answers.
Here in Austin, Texas, we’ve been organizing around the Michael Scott murder trial. Scott was accused, along with Robert Springsteen (now on Texas death row) and Maurice Pierce (awaiting trial) of killing four girls in a local yogurt shop in 1991. There was no physical evidence linking any of the defendants to the crime--all the state had to go on were the confessions of Scott and Springsteen, which there is reason to believe were coerced by Austin police. The murders went unsolved for eight years, until police focused their attention on the three men, whom they arrested in 1999.
On September 6, 2002, Illinois death row prisoner Frankie Redd committed suicide by hanging himself inside his cell. To protest the administration’s neglect of Redd, who was mentally ill, more than 50 prisoners at Pontiac Correctional Facility’s Condemned Unit went on hunger strike for 48 hours following his death. Our hearts go out to Frankie’s family, friends and to all the men on Pontiac’s death row. Here are excerpts of letters sent to the New Abolitionist from several Illinois death row prisoners who knew Frankie.
Illinois Governor George Ryan is considering petitions for commutations or pardons from almost all of the 160 prisoners on Illinois’ death row. Ryan imposed a moratorium on executions in January 2000, declaring that the state’s death penalty system was "broken." But Ryan will leave office after the coming election. He has said that he will consider commuting all of the death sentences in the state--as a sign of his conclusion that the death penalty system can’t be trusted.
Columbia University/Barnard College by Karen Fu
During Death Penalty Awareness Week, Campaign chapters at Columbia University and Barnard College voiced our opposition to executions and reached out to new audiences. We held informational tables alongside the college walks on both campuses every day and hosted two special events.
Former death row prisoner and anti-death penalty activist Lawrence Hayes is in jail facing parole charges that could land him back in prison for years. The charges stem from a September 24 domestic argument. Despite the fact that his girlfriend, Annette Pittman, is not pressing charges and is pleading to have Lawrence released from prison, the state is threatening to revoke Lawrence’s parole.
Freed Member Of The Angola Three Continues To Speak Out
Robert "King" Wilkerson was freed from Louisiana’s Angola Prison a little over a year ago. A member of the Angola 3, he spent 29 years in solitary confinement for a crime he didn’t commit. Robert organized while in prison to try to improve conditions. And since winning his freedom, he has spoken at many events in the U.S. and abroad to expose the injustices of the criminal justice system and to publicize the plight of the other members of the Angola 3, who remain in prison.
"Keeping it real" is a phrase I recently learned from the younger generation while I was in the Cook County Jail. I was there preparing for my hearing to try to prove that Chicago police officers literally tortured me into signing a confession, which was used to convict and sentence me to death. "Telling it like it is," "no holding back," and "telling the truth" are all variations of "Keeping it real."
On May 9, 2002, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening halted executions in Maryland, citing concerns over racism on death row. This was a dramatic reversal for the governor who oversaw the executions of two poor, Black men: Flint Gregory Hunt in 1997 and Tyrone X Gilliam in 1998.
With Justice John Paul Stevens commenting in a recent opinion that "the court should revisit the issue of the death penalty for crimes committed while under the age of 18," abolitionists had every reason to believe that the U.S. Supreme Court would take up the constitutionality of executing juvenile offenders. But shamefully, the court decided to shelve this important issue--which means that more juvenile offenders will be sent along the conveyor belt to death.