This winter has been an icy one for the Midwest. Thankfully, the movement to repeal the death penalty is hotting things up.
On Friday, a bill to end the death penalty passed through committee in the Kansas state senate. It's headed for a senate vote - Kansas's first! We bring you the full story in this issue of the EJEdition.
It's always exciting when we have a new legislative breakthrough to talk about, but we shouldn't forget that these successes are built on a foundation of less visible, but no less important, successes in public education and grassroots organizing. We zoom in on one of the states where this type of success is happening everyday. Ohioans to Stop Executions (OTSE) are, brick-by-brick, nurturing the foundation on which future repeal will be built. EJUSA's fabulous new intern, April Park, conducted the interviews and wrote for this piece.
Finally, don't forget to read our recommended link!
on behalf of all of EJUSA
Repeal bill advances in Kansas
A bill that would end the death penalty in Kansas passed the senate judiciary committee by a vote of 7 to 4! The 'yeses' included five Republicans and two Democrats and this bi-partisan endorsement moves the bill on to the full state senate, which will debate the issue as early as next week.
The committee's decision was inspired by the myriad voices in support of repeal that senators heard in the hearings that preceded the vote. Former district attorney, Sam Milsap, highlighted the death penalty's risk of executing an innocent person Bishop Michael O. Jackels spoke of Catholic thinking in opposition to the death penalty. Professor Michael L. Radelet laid out the evidence that the death penalty does not promote public safety. Bud Welch, whose daughter was killed in the Oklahoma bombings, told his story in which the perpetrator's execution gave him not one iota of healing or peace.
Jordan Steiker, who teaches death penalty law at the University of Texas, highlighted the recent decision of the American Law Institute (ALI) to drop the capital punishment section from its Model Penal Code. The Model Penal Code serves as a blueprint for state laws. Their capital punishment section was the framework on which every state's death penalty law was based, so the decision to scrap the section is pretty momentous. After a comprehensive study, the ALI simply realized that the death penalty system was way too broken to fix.
Donna Schneweis, Coordinator of the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty (KCADP) said that when Steiker was speaking, the committee was in "rapt attention." Said Donna, "Sometimes you see people on their laptops or shuffling papers but not here. There were enough lawyers on the committee that they recognized the significance of the ALI's move."
KCADP's organizer Chris Cook told me that the hearings resonated with the Kansan public as well. "The hearings really motivated people to get involved and let their legislators know they want change. We are very pleased that the committee voted to send the bill to senate floor and, with more people engaged then ever before, we are feeling very hopeful. I urge all Kansas to contact their state senators and have their voices heard."
The whole team at KCADP believes it's a new day for Kansas. And with Kansas at the center, the very heart, of the nation, this could be big news for all of us.
Organizer's Corner: on the ground in Ohio
by April Park
Among the 11.5 million residents going about their days in the state of Ohio, there are two particularly inspirational ladies: Adrian Griffin and Renee Berlon. They are the hard-working organizers of Ohioans to Stop Executions (OTSE).
With Adrian heading the northern half of the state, and Renee in the south, together they are combating a fatal blunder that drains the justice system of its resources and integrity: the death penalty. They do everything from outreach and events to media response and tabling. Their efforts in 2009 gained them 800 new members!
But the thing they are most excited about is the work they have done to build relationships with members of law enforcement and murder victim family members. Says Adrian:
"Family members who have lost a loved one to homicide are often not asked about what resources were there for them--or were missing--at the time of their loved one's murder. Same with members of the law enforcement community--they too are not always asked about their views on what it is that helps keep our communities safer or what resources could help them do their jobs better."
It is satisfying to bring these critical stakeholders' voices to the table, say the two. It has also provided the insight of first hand experience with the criminal justice system to the rest of the Ohioan public.
For 2010, the OTSE organizers hope to improve and expand their work with these groups by providing the resources necessary for those who grieve to heal, and those who need help to better secure communities.
RECOMMENDED LINKS: Is it a dodge? (I don't mean the car)
This article in the Dallas morning news covers the recent meeting of the Texas Forensic Science Commission. The case of Cameron Todd Willingham, the Texan whose execution was based on junk science, and whose situation spurred the formation of the Commission to begin with, was noticeably absent from the meeting's agenda.
Read the full story, which gives the background leading up to this point, and tells where we are right now.
Equal Justice USA (EJUSA) is a national leader in the movement to halt executions. We work state by state to train and empower grassroots leaders to advocate for a more fair and humane criminal justice system. Will you help us build this movement?
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