Executing Justice in Illinois.

Congratulations Illinois, for evolving into the 21st century ahead of the rest of us (I’m writing from Arizona – the Deep Southwest). Thanks to all the good souls who weighed in for this fight. I personally think the issue of accuracy when executing people IS an issue of morality, and that the entire criminal justice system should be taking a second look at the problem of wrongful conviction, not just the death penalty.

Prosecutorial and police misconduct were the real reasons for the demise of capital punishment in Illinois. That’s pathetic – and all too common. The US has been imprisoning and executing innocent people for a long time; the folks responsible for locking us away know it and have done little about assuring real justice – evidence that their arrest and conviction rates are far more important than victims’ lives really are. That’s pretty gutless for a crowd that prides itself on fighting crime.

Many in law enforcement and the judiciary stood in the way of abolishing the Illinois death penalty, of course, and are whining about it tonight. Never mind the few innocent folks who might be murdered by the state – or the guilty who got off scott free – they just didn’t want to lose the leverage it gave them to coerce plea deals out of whatever defendants they managed to pin charges on – preferably the very same ones they accused in sensational cases in the media in the first place. They sure don’t want to admit they may have ever made a mistake, either – those cases should never have to depend on resolution from the same people who screwed them up in the first place.

That should be a red flag to us all: any judge or prosecutor who insists that the justice system is always right can’t be trusted by the rest of us – they’re either oblivious or corrupt. In either case, they’re not only failing to protect victims by getting the wrong bad guys and not making it right, they’re creating a whole new class of victims. Incarceration alone is violence, so we’d better get it right if we’re going to isolate, shame, exile and brutalize those we punish in America – particularly if we plan to execute them on top of it…

—————from the Chicago Tribune—————–

What killed Illinois’ death penalty

It wasn’t the question of morality but the question of accuracy that led state to abolish capital punishment

By Steve Mills, Tribune reporter

9:15 PM CST, March 9, 2011

If there was one moment when Illinois’ death penalty began to die, it was on Feb. 5, 1999, when a man named Anthony Porter walked out of jail a free man.

Sitting in the governor’s mansion, George Ryan watched Porter’s release on television and wondered how a man could come within 50 hours of being executed, only to be set free by the efforts of a journalism professor, his students and a private investigator.

“And so I turned to my wife, and I said, how the hell does that happen? How does an innocent man sit on death row for 15 years and gets no relief,” Ryan recalled last year. “And that piqued my interest, Anthony Porter.”

To be sure, by the time Porter was set free, the foundation of Illinois’ death penalty system already had begun to erode by the steady stream of inmates who had death sentences or murder convictions vacated: Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez in the Jeanine Nicarico case, the men known as the Ford Heights Four, Gary Gauger.

But for decades, the debate over capital punishment rarely strayed from whether it was right or wrong, a moral argument that was waged mostly by a narrow group of attorneys and abolition supporters that could be easily dismissed. Public opinion polls showed little movement. Death sentences and executions hit record levels.

Inmates like the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, whose guilt was never in question, were put to death and caused little controversy. But when a miscarriage of justice was discovered and a death row inmate was set free, the police and prosecutors contended that it was an isolated incident, an anomaly. They got little argument.

In November 1998, the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University hosted 29 exonerated death row inmates at a conference, putting a human face to the death penalty’s errors. Then, with Porter’s case still in the spotlight, plus a series of stories in the Chicago Tribune later that year that illuminated deep frailties in the state’s system of capital punishment, the debate over the death penalty was transformed.

Suddenly, it was about accuracy. No longer were the mistakes anecdotal. The problems were systemic.

Opposition to the death penalty began to win new supporters, people who looked at the issue pragmatically, not just morally, and were dismayed by the mistakes. Politicians no longer saw the issue as a third rail with voters. Ryan, who declared a halt to all executions in 2000, found it did not cost him politically.

A decade after Ryan declared a moratorium, 61 percent of voters questioned in a poll did not even know the state still had a death penalty, reflecting a stalemate of sorts that had emerged between supporters of abolition and those who wanted to bring back capital punishment. No one was being put to death, yet death row again was receiving inmates, though at a slower pace than before the Ryan moratorium.

Had Republican Bill Brady won the November general election instead of Democrat Pat Quinn, the state still would have a death penalty, and the new governor almost certainly would have lifted the moratorium and allowed executions to resume.

Ultimately, supporters of abolition in the General Assembly — frustrated that sufficient reform had not been enacted and stung by the costs of trials and appeals — voted to abolish the death penalty. On Wednesday, Quinn signed abolition into law and commuted the sentences of 15 inmates who had been sentenced to death since the moratorium.

“That isolated image of Anthony Porter is crucial,” said Lawrence Marshall, a former legal director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions and a key player in the abolition of the death penalty. “But it only makes a difference when it comes amidst all of those other incidents. It shows (the problems weren’t) isolated. This was a trend.”

With Quinn’s signature, Illinois became the fourth state to abandon the death penalty over the last decade, and the isolation of the use of capital punishment, mostly in the South, is a national trend, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.

The New Jersey Legislature voted to drop the death penalty in 2007. A New York appeals court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 2004. And in 2009, the New Mexico Legislature voted to repeal capital punishment; Gov. Bill Richardson signed the bill into law.

Other states have convened panels to study the death penalty and have considered legislation to end it, prompted by the exonerations of condemned inmates; capital punishment’s high cost, particularly in a down economy; and the widening support for life in prison without parole as an alternative sentence, Dieter said.

“The life-without-parole option is not going away,” Dieter said last week. “People have a lot of lingering doubts about the possibility of a person being wrongly convicted. They are willing to convict them, but when it comes to the death sentence, they want to be doubly sure of their guilt, even more than the system requires.”

Between Porter’s release and Quinn’s signing of the abolition bill, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the use of the death penalty, saying the mentally disabled and those who commit their crimes as juveniles cannot be executed.

The number of death sentences dropped. The number of executions dropped. Even cases thought to be death penalty slam dunks offered surprises that suggested the death penalty was in decline. James Degorski and Juan Luna, the two men convicted in the murders of seven people in January 1993 at a Brown’s Chicken & Pasta restaurant in Palatine, also were spared the ultimate punishment.

Luna, convicted in 2007, and Degorski, convicted in 2009, were sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Even Andre Crawford, convicted of 11 brutal murders on the South Side that made him one of the area’s most prolific serial killers, escaped the death penalty in 2009 when he was given life in prison without parole.

While some observers saw those sentences as signs the death penalty was withering, the truth may have been more complicated. In the Brown’s Chicken cases, the two juries voted 11-1 for death. Crawford’s jury voted 10-2 for death, said the prosecutor in the case, James McKay, chief of the capital litigation task force for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

That, he said, was evidence jurors still were receptive to the death penalty but were stymied by holdouts.

“It tells me that our jurors overwhelmingly want the death penalty,” said McKay, a veteran prosecutor.

What’s more, he said, the future without the death penalty may prove more costly than with it.

“These murder trials don’t go away just because the death penalty won’t be a sentencing option,” McKay said. “With the death penalty off the table, there’ll be even more trials. There’ll be no incentive to plead guilty. I do not believe for one second that taking the death penalty off the table will save the state of Illinois any money whatsoever.”

With no death penalty, Illinois’ last execution — its 12th since capital punishment was reinstated in the mid-1970s — will remain that of Andrew Kokoraleis, who was put to death by lethal injection in March 1999, while Ryan was governor, for the mutilation murder of an Elmhurst woman.

And while many people believe Illinois never executed an innocent man, others disagree. The 1995 execution of Girvies Davis for a downstate murder was long controversial and relied heavily on a disputed confession, one the police got when they took him out of jail in the middle of the night and, according to Davis, threatened him.

In fact, Davis confessed to numerous crimes that night and, authorities later acknowledged, many of the confessions were false, with other people later convicted of those crimes. On the other hand, Davis admitted to taking part in other crimes that led to the deaths of innocent people, though he insisted he never killed anybody himself.

One of Davis’ attorneys once wrote in an essay in the Tribune that “nothing short of finding the real murderer would have saved Davis’ life.” So it is that the execution still haunts the lawyer, David Schwartz. He called the death penalty’s end, nearly 16 years after Davis was put to death by lethal injection, “bittersweet.”

“It bothers me when I hear people say that the state of Illinois never executed a person for a crime they did not commit,” Schwartz said. “Because they did with Girvies Davis.”

Tribune reporter Dahleen Glanton contributed.

Free the Scott Sisters: Grace calling Mississippi.

Hey Friends of Justice out there:
Don’t let Governor Barbour leave Jamie and Gladys to die in prison.

This week is a pretty critical time for folks to be contacting the Governor of Mississippi to implore him to pardon Jamie and Gladys Scott. I’m posting one of the more recent news editorials detailing their struggle below. You can also hit their mom’s blogspot for more info (Evelyn Rasco – such a beautiful soul – is their mom; Nancy Lockhart and Sis Marpessa are their champions). Be prepared for some awesome gospel, blues, and soul to stream through when you open it (that means crank up your speakers, not turn them down)!


The conditions of the prison they’re in – particularly the trailer where Jamie receives dialysis treatments (when the machine is working, that is) are horrendous – but you needn’t make reference to that in your communication with Governor Barbour’s office about the pardon – there’s an appropriate contact for that below.

If you’re a registered Republican – even from outside of Mississippi – please share that with Governor Barbour in your letter, as the man will likely be running for national office in 2012. It would help for him to know that real Republicans are interested in seeing that Americans are capable of delivering both justice and mercy when we’ve been wrong…

Here’s the info to reach Governor Haley Barbour (visit that link, first, to get to know a little about him):

Honorable Haley Barbour
P.O. Box 139
Jackson, Mississippi 39205

1-877-405-0733

You may also want to put something on letterhead and e-mail it as an attachment to the governor’s personal assistant – Dorothy Kuykendal:


Jamie Scott (center) with Mom and brother.

Also, check out this recent post and please contact the Mississippi health department regarding the black mold, toilets in Quick Bed and inadequate infrastructure in this dialysis trailer which are all located at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, Mississippi. There are a lot of lives at stake – the survival rates for sick Mississippi prisoners have plummeted in recent years under the current health care provider, Wexford – Mother Jones did an excellent piece on this in March.

Jeffrey K. Brown, Ph.D., R.P.E., B.C.E.
Bureau Director
State Public Health Entomologist
Mississippi State Department of Health
570 East Woodrow Wilson Avenue
Jackson, Mississippi 39216

601.576.7972 Office
601.576.7632 Fax
769.257.2242 Cell


Here’s the latest article giving some background on Jamie and Gladys. Please take action on their behalf THIS WEEK.

———-From the Seattle Times via Free The Scott Sisters———-

Sisters may or may not be guilty, but Mississippi assuredly is

Leonard Pitts Jr.
Sunday, November 21, 2010

Let’s assume they did it.

Let’s assume that two days before Christmas in 1993, a 22-year-old black woman named Jamie Scott and her pregnant 19-year-old sister Gladys set up an armed robbery. Let’s assume these single mothers lured two men to a spot outside the tiny town of Forest, Miss., where three teenage boys, using a shotgun the sisters supplied, relieved the men of $11 and sent them on their way, unharmed.

Assume all of the above is true, and still you must be shocked at the crude brutality of the Scott sisters’ fate. You see, the sisters, neither of whom had a criminal record before this, are still locked away in state prison, having served 16 years of their double-life sentences.

It bears repeating. Each sister is doing double life for a robbery in which $11 was taken and nobody was hurt. Somewhere, the late Nina Simone is moaning her signature song:

“Mississippi Goddam.”

For the record, two of the young men who committed the robbery testified against the sisters as a condition of their plea bargain. All three reportedly received two-year sentences and were long ago released. No shotgun or forensic evidence was produced at trial. The sisters have always maintained their innocence.

Observers are at a loss to explain their grotesquely disproportionate sentence. Early this year, the Jackson Advocate, a weekly newspaper serving the black community in the state capital, interviewed the sisters’ mother, Evelyn Rasco. She described the sentences as payback for her family’s testimony against a corrupt sheriff. According to her, that sheriff’s successor vowed revenge.

You don’t have to believe that to believe this: Mississippi stands guilty of a grievous offense against simple decency.

But there is hope. Recently, the sisters’ cause has been championed by high-powered allies. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert and the NAACP have called on Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour to pardon the two women. I add my voice to theirs.

I have no way of knowing if the Scott sisters’ fate is tied in to some sheriff’s revenge and at some level, the question is moot. Whatever the proximate cause of this ridiculous sentence, the larger cause is neon clear: the Scott sisters are black women in the poorest state in the union. And as report after report has testified, if you are poor or black (and God help you if you are both), the American justice system has long had this terrible tendency to throw you away like garbage. Historically, this has been especially true in the South.

If you doubt it, play with the scenario in your head. Try to imagine some rich white girl doing double life for an $11 robbery. You can’t.

But then, that girl has access to a brand of justice unavailable to women like Jamie and Gladys Scott. She will receive every break the law allows her and maybe a few it does not. No one will throw her away.

And while it would be nice to think this problem of discarding people’s lives would be solved by the release of the Scott sisters, the truth is, that wouldn’t even address it.

How many other Scott sisters and brothers are languishing behind bars for no good reason, doing undeserved hard time on nonexistent evidence, perjured testimony, prosecutorial misconduct or sheer racial or class bias?

So fixing the problem the Scott sisters represent involves nothing less than the reformation of the justice system, a commitment to make it, as the name implies, a system that reliably produces “justice” as opposed to these too frequent miscarriages thereof.

Meantime, Jamie Scott, who is in her late 30s now, is in poor health. She is said to be losing her vision and both her kidneys have failed. And we wait for common sense to take hold in Mississippi.

It is a situation that shocks the senses, even if we assume they did it.

Now, assume they did not.

Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.’s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: lpitts@miamiherald.com

From: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/editorialsopinion/2013477385_pitts21.html

Free the Scott Sisters: Grace calling Mississippi.


Hey Friends of Justice out there:
Don’t let Governor Barbour leave Jamie and Gladys to die in prison.




This week is a pretty critical time for folks to be contacting the Governor of Mississippi to implore him to pardon Jamie and Gladys Scott. One of the more recent news editorials detailing their struggle is already posted below. You can also hit their mom’s blogspot for more info (Evelyn Rasco – such a beautiful soul – is their mom; Nancy Lockhart and Sis Marpessa are their champions). Be prepared for some awesome gospel, blues, and soul to stream through when you open it (that means crank up your speakers, not turn them down)!


The conditions of the prison they’re in – particularly the trailer where Jamie receives dialysis treatments (when the machine is working, that is) are horrendous – but you needn’t make reference to that in your communication with Governor Barbour’s office about the pardon – there’s an appropriate contact for that below.


If you’re a registered Republican – even from outside of Mississippi – please share that with Governor Barbour in your letter, as the man will likely be running for national office in 2012. It would help for him to know that real Republicans are interested in seeing that Americans are capable of delivering both justice and mercy when we’ve been wrong…


Here’s the info to reach Governor Haley Barbour (visit that link, first, to get to know a little about him):

Honorable Haley Barbour
P.O. Box 139
Jackson, Mississippi 39205


1-877-405-0733
governor@governor.state.ms.us


You may also want to put something on letterhead and e-mail it as an attachment to the governor’s personal assistant – Dorothy Kuykendal:

DKuykendall@governor.state.ms.us

Jamie Scott (center) with Mom and brother.



Also, check out this recent post and please contact the Mississippi health department regarding the black mold, toilets in Quick Bed and inadequate infrastructure in this dialysis trailer which are all located at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, Mississippi. There are a lot of lives at stake – the survival rates for sick Mississippi prisoners have plummeted in recent years under the current health care provider, Wexford – Mother Jones did an excellent piece on this in March.

Jeffrey K. Brown, Ph.D., R.P.E., B.C.E.
Bureau Director
State Public Health Entomologist
Mississippi State Department of Health
570 East Woodrow Wilson Avenue
Jackson, Mississippi 39216


601.576.7972 Office
601.576.7632 Fax
769.257.2242 Cell


jeffrey.brown@msdh.state.ms.us
www.healthyms.com

BLACK WOMEN’s Defense League: Press Conference Today.

TODAY: NOON

PRESS CONFERENCE: Official “Kick Off” for

“The DIRECT ACTION National Campaign To
FREE THE SCOTT SISTERS NOW !!!!”

FRIDAY MARCH 26, 2010 12 noon

IN FRONT OF THE CAPITOL BUILDING
400 High St. JACKSON, MS

For more information e-mail: nationalmwm@aol.com
Call The Black Women’s Defense League @267-636-3802

Official and National Million Woman March & Universal Movements
Black Women’s Defense League Unit
P.O. Box 53668
Philadelphia, PA 19105