Connecticut's choosing life over death by their House and the Senate will help move our country towards a restorative means of justice. We pray that this repeal, when signed by the Governor, works like the little yeast that leavens all the dough (1Cor 5:6) and more states follow their example and choose life.
Let us all work to embody the surge of power of our Easter message of "upward movement for of all creation" by promoting the sanctity of all life ... even life that is in need of reconciliation.
Thank you to all who worked so tirelessly for Connecticut's move towards repeal of the death penalty.
This month we will discuss racial justice as we feature North Carolina.
In this April 2012 e-newsletter you will find:
'Love Without Knowledge is Sterile: The Death Penalty'
The Catholic Mobilizing Network is featuring a paper by graduating Creighton University Senior Audri Edmonds (pictured at right) that investigates how the application of the death penalty in the United States’ legal system uniquely impacts the African-American community, and, in particular, how systems of race, poverty and criminal justice cause family deterioration and ultimately lead to the degradation of African American culture.
Read the paper on CMN's website.
About North Carolina's Racial Justice Act
By Gerda Stein, Public Information Coordinator, The Center for Death Penalty Litigation
In 2009, the State of North Carolina made history when it enacted the NC Racial Justice Act (RJA). The RJA, a response to concerns about the documented persistence of racial discrimination in the state’s capital punishment system, allows people facing the death penalty to present evidence, including statistics, of racial bias in their cases. If a death row inmate is able to prove that race played a significant role in his or her case, he or she will be resentenced to life in prison without parole.
On the heels of the exonerations of three African-American death row inmates, and informed by the findings of several studies showing that a defendant’s odds of getting the death penalty increase significantly if the victim is white, citizens and lawmakers joined to reduce the risk of the unacceptable prospect of someone being put to death because of skin color.
A strong and diverse coalition of faith communities, organizers, lawyers, activists, exonerees, victims’ family members and lawmakers carried out a forceful campaign to educate the public, the media, legislators and the governor about the issue and about how best to address it. Answering the call of the United States Supreme Court in McCleskey v. Kemp for state legislatures to "respond to the will and consequently the moral values of the people" when addressing the difficult and complex issue of racial bias in the death penalty system, the RJA was drafted, passed and enacted.
In response to the law’s enactment, researchers at Michigan State University conducted a comprehensive study of North Carolina’s death row. The findings, used in the motions filed by death row inmates under the RJA, are stunning. Qualified black potential jurors are struck from juries at more than twice the rate of white jurors and the odds of getting the death penalty increase by more than two times if the victim is white. There are 157 men and women on North Carolina’s death row; 31 of those were sentenced to death by all-white juries, and an additional 38 had juries with only one person of color. All across North Carolina, prosecutors have systematically used peremptory challenges to exclude qualified black jurors from jury service. Statistics, used routinely in employment and housing discrimination cases, show that this consistent pattern of exclusion cannot be attributed simply to chance.
North Carolina Courts are currently conducting Racial Justice Act hearings, and lead cases are being heard in two counties. The first evidentiary hearing under the RJA was just completed in Fayetteville, where a superior court judge heard evidence of racial bias in jury selection in the case of Marcus Robinson. Defense attorneys relied on the Michigan State University study and educated the judge on the history of racial bias, implicit bias, and on how to avoid bias in the courtroom. However the judge rules in Marcus Robinson’s case, the losing side will appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which will interpret the law in this lead case.
Despite strong and well-documented evidence, the RJA has been under siege. Last year the legislature, under new leadership, passed a bill repealing the RJA, which Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed. The legislature was unable to override the veto, and the law still stands. But a legislative committee was appointed to review the law to enact any changes the committee sees fit. The committee aims to submit a draft bill in the May 2012 legislative session.
Despite the attacks on the law, it is clear that the RJA has shined a light and forced a conversation about racial bias in the state’s criminal justice system. This landmark piece of legislation should not only advance racial justice in North Carolina’s death penalty system, but will serve as a model for other states to similarly confront the impermissible and unconscionable effect of racial discrimination in the system.
Click here for more information on The Center for Death Penalty Litigation.
A Recent History of North Carolina's Death Penalty
By Tarrah Callahan, Acting Director, North Carolina Coalition for a Moratorium
Historically, North Carolina has been one of the leading death penalty states in the country. It has been one of the most active states in terms of executions, size of death row and number of death sentences imposed.
However, North Carolina’s use of the death penalty has changed drastically over the past three decades. High-profile exonerations, comprehensive studies showing the exorbitant costs of the death penalty, scandals within the State Bureau of Investigation’s Crime Lab, and documented racial bias in its capital punishment system have all contributed to decreasing public support for the death penalty as evidenced by polling and the decreasing number of death sentences returned by juries throughout the state.
The decline in public support for the death penalty in North Carolina has coincided with a de facto moratorium on execution in North Carolina since August 2006 as a result of litigation:
N.C. Dept. of Corrections vs. N.C. Medical Board: In 2007 the North Carolina Medical Board, the state agency charged with regulating physicians in North Carolina, issued a policy against doctor participation in executions. Because the state’s lethal injection protocol specifically required physician participation in executions, the Department of Correction brought suit against the Medical Board. On May 1, 2009, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that it was not within the Board’s authority to sanction doctors for their participation in executions.
Council of State: Several inmates on North Carolina’s death row brought suit against the Council of State, a body comprised of elected Executive Branch officials and charged with approval of execution protocol. The inmates claimed that the Council had not followed proper administrative procedure in their prior approval of the state’s execution protocol. A Superior Court Judge found that the inmates did not have standing to challenge the Council’s decision and the case was appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court. The Court heard arguments in May 2011 and ultimately sided with the Council of State, finding that the inmates had no right to contribute to the Council’s decision-making process in approving this protocol.
Lethal Injection: The final piece of litigation holding up executions was whether the state’s use of lethal injection violated the 8th amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stevens issued his decision earlier this year against the inmates. This decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court.
The legal obstacles to North Carolina’s resumption of execution are nearly at an end. However, there are matters in individual cases that must be resolved before executions can be scheduled. One hundred and fifty-four of the 158 persons on North Carolina’s death row filed claims under the Racial Justice Act, a law passed in 2009 to address the documented racial bias within North Carolina’s use of the death penalty. Despite consistent attacks and attempts to repeal the Racial Justice Act, the law remains intact to date. Four inmates have exhausted all appeals and could face upcoming execution once the lethal injection appeal is resolved.
While support for the death penalty is waning in North Carolina, resumption of executions remains a real prospect. Continued and active advocacy is needed to prevent executions from restarting.
Click here for more information on the North Carolina Coaltion for a Moratorium.
PFADP's Kairos Campaign: Manifesting the 'Divine Dimension' in This Moment for Abolition
By Amanda Lattanzio, Community Organizer, People of Faith Against the Death Penalty
People of Faith Against the Death Penalty works to educate and mobilize faith communities to act to abolish the death penalty in United States. Founded in 1994 in North Carolina, we focus our programs on organizing among faith communities.
In 1999, we launched our NC Moratorium Now campaign. We held hundreds of forums at churches, synagogues and temples across the state. The campaign generated 50,000 petition signatures, 1,100 moratorium resolutions from congregations, small family businesses and community groups in every North Carolina county. We obtained resolutions from 39 local governments - from the biggest cities such as Charlotte and Fayetteville to small rural hamlets. Each of these resolutions was a tangible project and important victory for our base, empowering the people who generated it, engaging the congregation or organization that endorsed it, and thereby widening the movement. Each local government resolution involved an organizing campaign that had lasting impacts. The campaign earned widespread positive media and editorial attention and created a buzz around North Carolina. We believe that the legislative victories in North Carolina over the past decade would not have happened without the NC Moratorium Now campaign and the tide of support for reforms it generated. The North Carolina Racial Justice Act, increased funding for indigent defense, exempting people with mental retardation from the death penalty, doctors successfully challenging the North Carolina Medical Board's policies allowing doctors to actively participate in executions, and the six-year de facto moratorium itself would likely not have happened in North Carolina without the grassroots base of support PFADP cultivated.
We also generated endorsements for a letter for the Racial Justice Act from more than 600 religious leaders in North Carolina. We advised the two Catholic bishops of North Carolina on the RJA and garnered their support for it. Many of these same religious leaders continue to work alongside PFADP in calling for the RJA to be left intact, as there is an ongoing effort to repeal this vital law. In part due to this widespread support from the religious community across the state, Gov. Beverly Perdue had the backing that she needed to veto the initial RJA repeal bill and sustain it against an override attempt.
On November 16-17, 2010 in Atlanta hundreds of religious leaders and concerned people came to the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. co-pastored with his father, and Emory University for PFADP’s Kairos Conference and Concert: Discerning Justice and Taking Action on America's Death Penalty. National and regional religious organizations and advocacy groups, including the Catholic Mobilizing Network, joined PFADP in launching the Kairos Campaign to Mobilize Faith-Based Opposition to America's Death Penalty.
This next decade is the ripe political, social and cultural moment in history for the movement to abolish the death penalty in the United States. Theologian Paul Tillich calls kairos the "manifestation of the divine dimension of the moment. ... when the new reality has come, the time of the New Being."
PFADP intends to facilitate moving the religious community in America to become strategically engaged with the movement to abolish the death penalty. CMN founder and Dead Man Walking author Sr. Helen Prejean chairs PFADP’s Kairos campaign. We will build on our successes to continue to reduce the scope of the death penalty and mobilize the public to proclaim the death penalty as the useless, expensive, error-prone and unfair policy that it is.
Through the Kairos campaign, PFADP has generated more than 3,500 signatures from religious leaders for clemency for Troy Davis on Georgia’s death row, an unprecedented number of religious leaders mobilized for a single clemency effort. PFADP has since partnered with Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, Ohioans to Stop Executions, Amnesty International USA and other groups on a variety of letters for repeal or clemency from clergy and laity.
In December 2011, we officially launched the Kairos Campaign in North Carolina with a press conference in Raleigh featuring Sr. Helen and religious leaders from across the state. Building on the success of our NC Moratorium Now Campaign, we see the next decade as the time to replicate our moratorium campaign in North Carolina with a similar repeal campaign to lay the groundwork for repeal.
The initial goals of the Kairos Campaign in North Carolina include more than 1,000 resolutions from faith communities, businesses, community groups and even local governments in every county in North Carolina. The campaign also includes a petition, a statewide letter for repeal from faith leaders, and the formation of denominational task forces to promote the campaign within religious traditions. Already more than 500 congregations and local businesses in more than half of North Carolina’s 100 counties have passed PFADP's resolutions calling on North Carolina to replace the death penalty with life without parole and to use the funds that would be saved to help murder victims' family members. A list of these resolutions is available at www.pfadp.org.
PFADP will not stop this campaign until enough people, faith communities, and institutions have taken action until the death penalty is repealed, no matter how long that takes.
We want to help you mobilize faith communities in your state. We hope that you will get involved today. Join the campaign at www.pfadp.org.
For more information contact email@example.com or (919) 933-7567.
"Race and the Death Penalty"
Race is the greatest predictor of who gets the death penalty in America, according to Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. Dozens of studies from states around the country confirm the same conclusions – that African-American defendants are more likely to be executed, as are defendants accused in cases involving white victims. "It is that last fail safe for white supremacy that says that ultimately white life must be valued over black life," says The Rev. Raphael Warnock of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, the spiritual home of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
View an eye-opening video courtesy of Odyssey Networks on this important aspect of anti-death penalty work.
Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation: Making Sure the Voices of Victims Are Heard
By Scott Bass, MVFR Interim Executive Director
Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR) works to make sure that murder victim family members who oppose the death penalty and/or support reforms are heard in public discourse about capital punishment. Our members are murder victim family members who help their friends, co-workers, media and policymakers understand the negative impact that capital punishment has on families of murder victims and families of those condemned to death. Our members are geographically, socioeconomically, racially and politically diverse. This article focuses on our work in one state on one issue – working in North Carolina in support of efforts to pass and protect the NC Racial Justice Act, a law passed in 2009 to address and prevent racial bias in death sentencing.
I held my breath as we walked toward the State Capital Building and the Governor’s office. The Governor’s staff had suggested limiting the number of participants in the meeting to "five or six." However, several more murder victim family members wanted to participate, and we successfully advocated for a larger meeting. These family members are often overlooked, pushed to the side and silenced – it was important that we get them into the room and let their voices be heard.
(At left: Jean Parks and other murder victim family members advocate for NC Racial Justice Act at North Carolina legislature in December 2011.)
Ultimately, 14 family members of victims and I crowded into the room with North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue and her staff to urge her veto of a bill that would repeal the NC Racial Justice Act (RJA).
Our group was prepared. Each person had accurate information and spoke from the heart about why they as family members of victims had worked hard to pass RJA in 2009 and to protect it being overturned. They explained why they believe RJA improves the quality of justice in our state and helps our system value all lives regardless of race. They had already written letters and guest editorials for newspapers, sent emails to elected officials, talked to church and civic groups and to news reporters. They had held two press conferences earlier in the year and would hold yet another one after this meeting with the Governor. Now they wanted her to hear them.
Late that afternoon after the meeting with the Governor, a successful press conference and visits with legislators, we gathered to reflect on the day and to see how everyone was doing. MVFR believes that in addition to helping family members lift their voices in ways that can be heard, we also have a responsibility to be aware of how advocacy benefits them and what it costs them to open up an intensely painful part of their lives so publicly. We have a responsibility to care for them.
We gathered in a circle and each person checked in about how they were doing, how the day had gone for them and what the day had meant to them. We laughed. We shed some tears. We breathed a collective sigh of relief. One person referred to this group of murder victim family members as "the family I never wanted to be part of but am so glad I have."
Two days later, before announcing her decision to the media, the Governor’s staff called. I was told that the Governor was very grateful for our group’s advocacy and that she would indeed veto the attempt to repeal RJA. Those family members, who had worked so hard, had been heard.
Making sure that murder victim family members who oppose the death penalty and/or support reforms are heard in the public discourse about the death penalty and about the many needs of families of murder victims – is what Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR) is about. Our members know firsthand the trauma and tragedy that murder inflicts. They deserve to be heard.
Murder victim family members who oppose the death penalty are often ignored even though they exist in large numbers. Support for the death penalty among murder victim family members is typically overestimated by the public, exaggerated by politicians and overstated by the media.
MVFR sees capital punishment as a failed policy that promises justice and closure but delivers neither. We believe the death penalty actually: Distracts attention from the many needs of murder victim family members; Diverts resources from services and supports that can meet those needs; Delays both justice and healing; Divides families who desperately need each others’ support - often within the same family; and is Detrimental to families of victims and families of those sentenced to death.
To learn more about our work in other states and to learn how you can help, visit our website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Franciscan Associates Minister to North Carolina Death Row Prisoners
Interview by Sr. Kathie Uhler, OSF, Assistant to the Executive Director, Catholic Mobilizing Network to End the Use of the Death Penalty
With Franciscan Associates, Members of St. Brendan’s Roman Catholic Parish, Calabash, N.C, involved in ministry with prisoners on Death Row (pictured from left): Kathy Doyle, Rita Canfield, Rita Joan Phillips and Pat Bueter,.
Sr. Kathie Uhler, OSF: Thank you all for agreeing to give this interview. Your work with death row prisoners stretches back well over 10 years. How did it all begin?
Rita Joan Phillips: A Franciscan Sister friend of mine was deeply involved in prison ministry in another state. In the late 1990s she came to St. Brendan’s and gave a talk on her work to the parish Franciscan Associate group. The Associates are laity, closely connected to the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, N.Y. They share in various ways in the ministries and spiritual life of the Sisters. The “Calabash Associates,” as the group is known, decided then to become involved in prison ministry.
Kathy Doyle: I had a friend at the county level in prison work who got us a list of the prisoners on death row. Several of us decided to become pen pals. We divided up the list – there were over 200 names – and each of us began writing to 10 or 12 inmates. Since we considered this was a long-term commitment, not all of the Associates were able to become involved in this aspect of the ministry.
Pat Bueter: I have not been involved very long, about two years. I was given 12 names. I usually write for occasions like Thanksgiving, Easter and twice in the summer. None ever wrote back. I was given four more names, and still no one has ever written back to me. But I keep at it because I think they do not write back because they don’t have stamps.
Rita Canfield: I received a letter today. It contains some information that I want to verify, if possible, with a prison chaplain in Raleigh (where North Carolina's death row is located) before responding. This brings up another point: that with the cutbacks in prison funding the number of chaplains has decreased. One of the prisons I visit has no chaplain.
CMN: So the letter writing leads to many other things.
Doyle: Yes. Back in 2000 we initiated the first postcard drive in the parish in support of the Moratorium on the Death Penalty in North Carolina. In 2004, we participated in a Lobby Day in Raleigh to continue the moratorium (which was about to expire) and hand-delivered petitions from our parish and other area churches to our elected legislators. As part of the day’s events, we met the first two North Carolina death row exonerees, men whose conviction and death sentence were overturned with new evidence. Other events we Associates held at the parish helped to spread the word about prison life. We held a screening of the documentary film Love Lived on Death Row, the story of how the children, whose father brutally murdered their mother, responded when he wanted to see them after many years. A pen pal was instrumental in reuniting three of the four children to their father.
CMN: Have your Catholic faith and Franciscan values made an impact in this ministry? Is the work satisfying from that standpoint?
Phillips: From the beginning I always tried to include holy cards and inspirational sayings. Practically the only thing we can send are bookmarks; there are so many restrictions. But what I learned from the prisoners about their own lives and how they grew up really touched my heart and made me realize how blessed my life has been.
Doyle: Sometimes we are able to send in Bibles and religious books. It depends on which prison the prisoners are in.
Canfield: I started writing to eight inmates on death row in July 2011. Five out of the eight have responded. One man has been on the Row for 33 years, since he was 18. He was illiterate when he was incarcerated there and yet he taught himself to read. He is amazing. When I first wrote he didn’t answer. But I found out that he didn’t have a stamp. I started sending him money orders. In addition to the writing, I visit two local prisons every other week (on the alternate weeks they are visited by one of our Deacons). We make sure a visit is made weekly. I bring Communion to the Catholics but the visit is not limited to Catholics. After the Communion service, we talk about the readings and religious topics. One of the men has asked for Baptism and another offered to be his sponsor.
Bueter: Even though I don’t receive letters, when the others share their letters, you want to cry. I feel compassion.
Phillips: We know of several on death row and in local prisons who have become baptized. Eight on the Row in Raleigh were baptized four or five years ago by Franciscan priests in the Raleigh Diocese. I, too, feel greater compassion since getting into this ministry. The men and women – and there only four women on the Row – I remember every day in prayer.
Canfield: I believe this ministry has affected me for the better when I realize that I am practicing one of the Corporal Works of Mercy: To visit the imprisoned.
CMN: Do you foresee any changes in this ministry for the Associates?
Doyle: We plan to continue in pretty much the same way into the future. Our pastor and many in our parish are anti-death penalty, yet there are some still in favor of it. A man who could not bring himself to sign a repeal petition later offered to make a visit with us to a prison. After that one visit he came to me and said he was changed; he could see that the death penalty is wrong in most cases. I am thankful to have seen gradual changes like this take place.
Canfield: Oh, yes: And in his letter today my pen pal enclosed a four-leaf clover that he found in the yard.
Play Project Update: Mater Dei Students Bring 'Dead Man Walking' to Religious Education Congress
By Greg Callaghan, National Coordinator, Dead Man Walking School Theatre ProjectThe Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project was thrilled to attend the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, Calif., at the end of March. Students from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana performed highlights of the play as part of the SAFE California rally to replace the death penalty in the state (pictured at right). The scenes that the students performed were very powerful, and showed the unique way that the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project encourages young people to think about and respond to the death penalty. Students from Mater Dei and other California high schools are available to perform a short selection of scenes at your parish or community center. Please contact us for more information.
Performances of Dead Man Walking continue this spring at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind., April 19-21; Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento, Calif., April 25-28; Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas, April 26-29; and Shawnee High School in Shawnee, Okla., May 3-5.
We are currently booking schools to participate in the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project for the 2012-2013 school year. If you know of a high school or college in your community that may be interested in participating in the project, please contact the national coordinator, Greg Callaghan at email@example.com or (415) 469-9149.
June 10-13: CMN’s Vicki Schieber will be facilitating workshops on the death penalty at the 31st annual National Convocation for Jail and Prison Ministry to be held these days at the University of Scranton in Scranton, Pa. For more information, visit the NCJPM website.
July 27-28: "Catholics and the Death Penalty," a two-day conference sponsored by Mount Saint Mary's University and CMN, will held this summer. It will include powerful stories from murder victims' family members, a wrongly accused death row inmate and death row ministers; presentations on Catholic teaching regarding the death penalty, and provide participants with a better understanding and deeper commitment to repeal. CMN speakers Vicki Schieber, Dale & Susan Recinella and Executive Director Karen Clifton are just some of the speakers presenting at this conference to be held on the Mount Saint Mary's University campus in Emmitsburg, Md. Registration options are for the whole conference or one day, and housing on campus is available. For more information and to register online or by phone, click here.
Want to know what else we're up to? Check out a full list of CMN Events.
Ohio: Restore Justice will hold a vigil to protest the scheduled execution of Mark Wiles by the state of Ohio. He is scheduled to be executed on the morning of April 18. The vigil will be held at the Athens County Courthouse, Athens, on Tuesday, April 17 from 6 to 7 p.m.
California: An Interfaith Gathering of People of Faith will take place on Sunday, April 22 from 3-5 p.m. at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology 2301 Vine St. (@ Arch Street), Berkeley. The event is free and will include reflections from survivors of victims of violence who will share their views of the death penalty. Following the panel discussion, there will be an interfaith memorial service of healing. For events schedule, ticketing and more information, visit www.requiemforthedeathpenalty.org.
California: Sponsored by Death Penalty Focus, SAFE California and the International Commission on the Death Penalty, a presentation entitled "International Law Enforcement Views on the Death Penalty" will take place April 24 from noon to 2 p.m. in Room 2203 at Golden Gate University School of Law, 536 Mission St. (between First and Second streets), San Francisco. The event is free and open to the public. For further information, contact Elizabeth Zitrin, by email or call (415) 243-0143.
California: The 21st annual Death Penalty Focus Award Dinner will be held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, April 26, starting at 6 p.m. Fr. Greg Boyle will be honored by Death Penalty Focus for his work in restorative justice. Among celebrities participating in the event are M.C. Hammer and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. For more information on the honorees and for pricing information and ticket purchase, visit the Death Penalty Focus page about the dinner here.
California: Save the Date! A symposium on crime, punishment and the common good of California entitled, "Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation," will be held August 3-4, 2012 in Los Angeles. Sponsored by the California Catholic Conference, and co-sponsored and hosted by Loyola Marymount University and Loyola Law School, this symposium will seek to raise awareness of restorative justice as a better system of justice for victims, offenders and communities. It will offer best and emerging practices that will bring society closer to this restorative ideal, and it will engage participants in a call to action to achieve this change. To learn more and to register, visit www.restorejustice.com, email or call (916) 313-4024.
For more events, news and resources, visit the By State section on the CMN website.