Don't let Maryland kill Tyrone Gilliam

March on November 7

By: Virginia Harabin

Tyrone Gilliam, whose voice has convinced hundreds to become active against the death penalty all across the nation, faces execution by the state of Maryland during the week of November 16, 1998. As the New Abolitionist went to press, activists from across the East Coast were preparing for the largest mobilization of death penalty opponents the state of Maryland has ever seen. Abolitionists will travel to Baltimore on November 7 to march on the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in an all-out effort to demand clemency for Tyrone Gilliam.

Tyrone was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Christine Doerfler. But he didn't receive a fair trial. The prosecution withheld facts that they were required to give to the defense-for example, that the "confession" extracted from Tyrone was obtained when he was high on PCP and suffering from massive head injuries inflicted by a car wreck. The arresting officer testified that Tyrone did not know who or where he was when he was arrested. Other evidence withheld from the defense includes the fact that one of Tyrone's codefendants received a deal from the prosecution in exchange for fingering Tyrone. Now both codefendants who do not sit on death row say that Tyrone wasn't the triggerman and never handled the gun that killed the victim.

Despite the evidence that Tyrone was denied a fair trial, and despite Maryland's clear history of racist sentencing patterns in capital cases, Maryland is prepared to kill Tyrone anyway.

As one of the founders of the event called "Live from Death Row," Tyrone, along with fellow death-row inmate Kenny Collins, has become a leading spokesperson against the racist and class-biased nature of the death penalty. People from Oakland to Chicago to Boston have spoken directly with Tyrone and been moved to action to prevent his death. Courageously addressing audiences he cannot see, ready to answer any question or comment that might come from the floor, Tyrone has used every opportunity to lead the fight against the death penalty. Hearing someone like Tyrone-an eloquent, sincere and passionate man on death row-breaks every stereotype associated with the people sitting death rows in the U.S.

Less than a year ago, the case of Karla Faye Tucker helped reopen the national debate about the death penalty, and many people were challenged to rethink their support for it. We can trace significant progress in building opposition to the death penalty since then. While his case is more typical of all the cases that receive little publicity and have previously not generated much support, Tyrone's work with the Campaign has done much to change this. Large numbers of people are angered by Maryland's plan to silence Tyrone X Gilliam.

As an activist, Tyrone has made the issue of the death penalty a personal one for hundreds of people who have heard him speak, and this has helped reinvigorate the fight against the death penalty for a new generation of activists. "Live from Death Row" events have involved inmates' families and friends in the fight against the death penalty. As John Price-Gilliam, Tyrone's brother-in-law, has often remarked, "We are in the midst of a war on minorities and the poor." Tyrone uses his own experience to illustrate the arbitrary use of the death penalty by prosecutors seeking to advance careers at the expense of individuals, families and entire communities of ordinary working people. By phone at an event in New York recently, Tyrone said, "My crime was the result of poverty and desperation. Politicians kill for power and prestige." Tyrone and his family have helped forge a strategy to combat the terror and isolation of the death penalty by bringing more and more people into the struggle to end it.

Every individual, group and community who opposes the death penalty should be out in full force on November 7 to demand clemency for Tyrone X Gilliam and an end to the barbaric injustice of the death penalty.