U.S. Supreme Court decision on incompetent attorneys
By: John Coursey
The anti-death penalty movement won a significant victory when the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that Maryland death row inmate Kevin Wiggins was denied a competent lawyer at his trial. In a 7-2 vote, the court ruled that Wiggins' lawyer "fell short of professional standards" by failing to investigate significant mitigating factors which could have persuaded the jury to return a sentence other than death. As a result of this ruling, Wiggins will be given a new sentencing hearing.
At the end of April, the North Carolina Senate passed a bill that would impose a two-year moratorium on capital punishment while the General Assembly studied the system. Abolitionists celebrated this huge victory that they have been fighting to win for years. But unfortunately, the state House closed out the summer session on July 20 with the moratorium legislation languishing on its agenda. The decision will be deferred until next summer's legislative session.
Two years ago, the Georgetown University chapter of the CEDP held its first-ever Death Penalty Awareness Week. The event was so successful building awareness on campus (even local press took an interest!) that Death Penalty Awareness week has become an annual event for all Campaign chapters nationally.
We were so sad to learn that Costella Cannon passed away on June 21 from cancer. Costella was a tireless fighter for abolition who was an inspiration to all of us in the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Her son, Frank Bounds, who was unjustly convicted and sentenced to death, died of medical neglect on Illinois' death row years ago. But Costella continued to fight to clear Frank's name and sought justice for all her "sons and daughters on death row."
The Bush administration thought that it would bring the death penalty back to Puerto Rico against the will of its people by demanding a death sentence in a murder trial against two men held this summer. But in a stunning turn of events, the jury in the trial delivered a not-guilty verdict, frustrating the federal prosecutors' plans. The trial of Joel Rivera Alejandro and Héctor Acosta Martínez--who were accused of kidnapping and murdering a store owner -- began in July, with federal prosecutors demanding a death sentence.
In May 1999, a jury convicted and sentenced Ryan Matthews to die for a 1997 murder at Comeaux's Grocery, a mom-and-pop convenience store in Bridge City, La., just outside New Orleans. DNA evidence now proves Ryan's innocence. New evidence not only exonerates Ryan but identifies the person who really committed this crime--a man named Rondell Love whose physical appearance is much closer to the descriptions offered by witnesses and who bragged to various people that he committed the murder.
We've been keeping busy this summer. We table regularly and meet weekly. With students away for summer break, we moved our meetings off-campus to St. Mary's Church in Harlem -- a meeting place for many progressive groups uptown.
The Campaign to End the Death Penalty will hold its third annual national convention in Chicago on the weekend of November 8-9. We hope you will join activists from across the country for a weekend of lively panel discussions and workshops. We aim to bring together both people who are new to the abolitionist movement, as well as more seasoned activists.
The story of Daniel Colwell demonstrates one of many things that are wrong with criminal justice in America: using the death penalty against the mentally ill. Daniel accomplished what had become a personal mission in January 2003. He committed suicide in his death row prison cell.
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.
Federal prosecutors' efforts to seek the death penalty against accused September 11th conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui were dealt a setback when federal Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled that Moussaoui has the right to interview suspected al-Qaeda member Ramzi bin al-Shibh, held by the U.S. government in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
On July 17, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed into law the first of many bills designed to reform the justice system to prevent wrongful convictions and innocent people from being executed. This bill makes Illinois the first state to require murder confessions to be videotaped. Police and prosecutors have two years to get in full compliance.
Delma Banks has been sitting on death row in Texas for the past 23 years--one of the longest periods of any death row prisoner. Delma, who is Black, was 21 years old when he was sentenced to death -- by an all-white jury in northeastern Texas -- for the shooting of a white 16-year-old. Delma had poor legal representation at trial, and a federal judge ruled that prosecutors withheld evidence and coached witnesses to lie on the stand. These witnesses have since come forward and signed affidavits saying that they lied.
For over eighteen months, the United States government has detained approximately 680 prisoners without charges or access to legal representation at Camp Delta, located on the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The prisoners have been denied any access to the outside world. And recently the military floated plans to turn Camp Delta into a death camp where prisoners can be executed. President George W. Bush, the Texecutioner, already signed a military order in November 2001 that allows a military tribunal to secretly decide death sentences for foreign nationals.